9/03 Note to readers of The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Truth about Morality and What to Do About it, Doctoral

Dissertation of Joshua D. Greene in the Department of Philosophy, Princeton University, June 2002. You are welcome to read this work, pass it on to others, and cite it. I only ask that if you pass on this work to someone else that it be passed on (1) in its entirety, (2) without modification, and (3) along with this note. I consider this a work in progress. It is currently under review in its present form at an academic press. I intend to revise and expand it substantially before publishing it as a book, so much so that the book and the dissertation will probably best be considered separate works. Comments are welcome. You can contact me by email (jdgreene@princeton.edu) or by regular mail: Joshua Greene Department of Psychology Princeton University Princeton, NJ 08544 jdg


Joshua David Greene




© Copyright by Joshua David Greene, 2002. All rights reserved.



In this essay I argue that ordinary moral thought and language is, while very natural, highly counterproductive and that as a result we would be wise to change the way we think and talk about moral matters. First, I argue on metaphysical grounds against moral realism, the view according to which there are first order moral truths. Second, I draw on principles of moral psychology, cognitive science, and evolutionary theory to explain why moral realism appears to be true even though it is not. I then argue, based on the picture of moral psychology developed herein, that realist moral language and thought promotes misunderstanding and exacerbates conflict. I consider a number of standard views concerning the practical implications of moral anti-realism and reject them. I then sketch and defend a set of alternative revisionist proposals for improving moral discourse, chief among them the elimination of realist moral language, especially deontological language, and the promotion of an anti-realist utilitarian framework for discussing moral issues of public concern. I emphasize the importance of revising our moral practices, suggesting that our entrenched modes of moral thought may be responsible for our failure to solve a number of global social problems.


in fond memory of

David Lewis 1941-2001

a philosopher without counterpart in this world or any other



My philosophical interests are rather pedestrian as philosophical interests go. If your man or woman on the street takes no interest in a certain issue, chances are I don't either. One consequence of my distaste for esoterica is that my friends and family outside of philosophy are, to me, as valuable a professional resource as my colleagues in the field. As my ideas have developed I've tried to make them accessible and compelling to intelligent lay people. What this means in practice is that my non-philosopher friends and family have endured years of my ranting, and I thank them for their trouble—for listening, for keeping me grounded with their feedback (sometimes in the form of glazed expressions), and for providing me with what is loosely called “moral support.” I thank my housemates Giulio Boccaletti and Antoinette Handley; my old friends Koichi Kurisu, Jon Bresman, and Darin McKeever; and my old old friends Brett Halsey and Emily Sobel. Thanks to Jessica Freireich for her open mind and heart. Thanks to Andrea Heberlein for a lifetime of affection in less than a year, with the best yet to come. Thanks to my inspiring siblings, Danny and Elizabeth, and to my parents, Laurie and Jonathan Greene, who taught me from the start to think for myself. As an undergraduate, I was fortunate to have had three talented and generous mentors who nurtured me by taking my fledgling ideas seriously when others would have laughed at them. I am forever grateful to Jonathan Baron, Amartya Sen, and Derek Parfit for sending me on my way.


Much of my work in recent years has been outside of philosophy in the emerging field of social cognitive neuroscience, and I am very grateful for my second home in Princeton’s psychology department. The influence of my work in psychology on my philosophical work is obvious, and my sincerest thanks go to Jonathan Cohen, John Darley, and Leigh Nystrom for taking me in and for providing me with unprecedented opportunities. I would also like to acknowledge Judith Viorst, whose charming tale of preadolescent angst inspired the title of this work.1 Over the last five years I've had the privilege of defending my ideas against some of the best minds in the philosophy business, both young and old. My debts to the members of Princeton's philosophy department are many, and I will not attempt to enumerate my creditors for fear of omissions. A few, however, deserve special mention. Thanks to Caspar Hare and Simon Keller for their constant companionship and insight. Thanks also to Anja Jauernig, Angelique Knapp, Josh Knobe, Brian Lee, Jonathan and Phillippa McKeown-Green, Jessica Moss, Casey O'Callaghan, Kieran Setiya, and Jeff Speaks. Many thanks to Mark Johnston, Paul Benacerraf, and my peers who participated in our departmental dissertation seminars during my post-generals years. I am also grateful to Gideon Rosen and the students in his meta-ethics seminar (Spring 2001) for allowing me to present to them an earlier version of my second chapter and for providing me with valuable feedback. Thanks to Ann Getson for being so much more than her title, "Graduate Assistant," could ever convey.


Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (1987).


as any Lewis student will attest.I owe a great debt to my advisor and mentor Gilbert Harman whose encouragement has meant a lot to me and whose advice and criticism have been indispensable. and my primary interest has been in ethics. I thank Gil not only for his contributions as my thesis advisor but for his unflagging support of my work outside of the department. to whom this work is dedicated. even though he is known primarily for his work in metaphysics. David dazzled his audiences with his brilliance and won the hearts of those who knew him with his kindness. It was a good match while it lasted. vii . I regret that he did not live to see this work completed. it was rarely easy. David held his students to the highest standard. and I am honored and enriched for having sneaked in as one of his last. If the first three chapters are tighter and better argued than the last two. Finally. I would like to thank my late advisor David Lewis. I came to Princeton hoping to work with David. although. you can blame me and thank the incomparable David Lewis.

Horrible Truth About Morality Chapter 1: Introduction 2 1.4.5 Moral Fictionalism 1.4.6 Others 1.2 Mackie 1.1 The Non-Cognitivists Two Meanings of “Moral” 1.Table of Contents Abstract Dedication Acknowledgements Table of Contents iii iv v viii Part I: The Terrible.4 The Conservative Approach 1.3 Some Further Clarifications 1.1 Projectivist Anti-Realism 1.5 The Revisionist Approach 1.1 Hinckfuss’ Moral Nihilism 5 15 22 24 24 25 29 30 32 33 34 34 viii .4 Timmons’ Ethical Contextualism Blackburn’s Quasi-Realism 1.4.

1. Burgess’ “Anethicism” 1.2 John P.3 Moral Intuitions and Moral Skepticism 2.2 Moral Realism and the Need for Fundamental Moral Principles 2.2. Garner’s “Compassionate Amoralism” 1.1.2. Direct and Indirect 2.3 The Nature of Fundamental Moral Principles 2.4 Radical Nihilism John A.1 Two Sources of Moral Skepticism 2.2 Fundamental Moral Principles: General or Specific? 2.5.2 Metaphysical v.5.1 Some Preliminaries 2.5.5. Epistemological Skepticism 2.1.3 The Variety of Moral Principles: General and Specific.1.2 The Supervenience of Value and the Necessity of Moral Principles 2.3 Fundamental Moral Principles 2.6 In Defense of Revisionism 37 37 38 45 46 Chapter 2: Against Moral Realism 54 2.4 Analytic Naturalism 55 55 57 60 64 64 71 78 84 84 88 90 ix .3.1 The Structure of Moral Principles 2. Burgess’ Framework for the Evaluation of Error Theories 1.3.

5 Synthetic Naturalism 2.3 Mathematics and Consciousness: Synthetic Naturalism’s Partners in Innocence? 2.6 Non-Naturalism 2.4. Smith (Again).2 Moral Intuition and Moral Reasoning 3.4.1 The Synthetic Naturalist’s Strategy 2.2 Synthetic Naturalism and the Problem of Fundamental Moral Principles 2.4 Projective Error 3.4. and Lewis 2.2 Michael Smith’s Analytic Rationalism Direct Analytic Moral Principles and Moore’s Open Question Argument 2.3 The Specter of Relativism: Jackson.4 Realist Relativism 2.5.1 Projectivism 3.5.3 Emotion and Moral Judgment 3.5.5 Other Forms of Analytic Naturalism 2.5 The Shaping of Morality 145 149 156 169 188 x .7 Summary and Conclusion 130 134 135 123 99 110 114 120 120 91 93 Chapter 3: Moral Psychology and Projective Error 142 3.2.

2 Joyce’s Fictionalist Proposal 4.2 Reforming Analytic Naturalism 209 209 211 220 221 225 228 233 240 245 245 251 259 259 264 xi .1.3.2 Assessing our Moral Practices 4.5 The Analogy with Color 4.2 The Baggage of Moral Realism 4.1 Error Theories and Pessimism 4.7.6 Faking It: Quasi-Realism and Fictionalism 4.7 Conclusion 197 204 Part II: What to Do About It Chapter 4: Practical Anti-Realism 208 4.3 Objective and Subjective Evaluation 4.7.1 Blackburn’s Quasi-Realist Proposal 4.6.7 Remaking It: Constructivism and Reforming Analytic Naturalism The Illusion of Rationalist Psychology 3.4 Moral Realism and the Revisionist Proposal 4.1 Some Preliminaries 4.3 Moral Psychology and the Scale Problem Constructivism 4.4 Analytic Naturalism Revisited 4.

2.1 Begging the Question with Deontological Language 5.2 Revisionist Moral Discourse The Study of “Thick” Moral Concepts 5.1.2. And do Well 5.2 Calling it Like We See It: “True” Values and Morally Loaded Words 5.3 Hurrah for Utilitarianism! 5.1.1 Normative Ethics and the Organization of Moral Intuitions 5.4 Moral Psychology and the Taming of Moral Intuitions 5.8 “Just Causes” and the Rhetoric of Realism 4.5 Saving The World 271 271 276 280 284 290 290 303 308 311 318 337 349 Bibliography 353 xii .4 Get Off Your High Horse: A Lesson from the Art of Negotiation and Diplomacy 5.1.3 Show.4 The Tragedy of Common Sense Morality and the Scientific Worldview 5.1 Revisionism and the Future of Moral Philosophy 5.3 What Ethicists Can Do. Don’t Tell: A Lesson from the Art of Fiction Summary and Preview 266 268 Chapter 5: Revisionism in Practice 270 5.

Horrible Truth About Morality 1 .Part I: The Terrible.

and. But the world they left us is radically different from the world we now inhabit. what was biologically advantageous for them may prove disastrous for us. their descendants. in particular. leaving us. At the risk of 1 Quoted in the New York Times Magazine. in the heads of our prehistoric ancestors. and these senses aren’t so much senses as they are capacities for affective response.”1 —Albert Einstein This essay is an attack on common sense—moral common sense. August 2. and thus we head toward unparalleled catastrophes. Mounting evidence suggests that our sense2 of right and wrong is a finely honed product of natural selection (Wright. enabled them to reproduce more effectively than their competitors. 1964 and in Calaprice (2000). 1994).Chapter 1 Introduction “The unleashing of power of the atom bomb has changed everything except our mode of thinking. We think about moral matters as we do in large part because our kind of moral thinking. to inherit their world. the human moral sense isn’t so much a single sense as it is a single capacity for acquiring many different moral senses. 2 As I will explain later (Chapter 3). as a result. 2 .

” We will return to this issue shortly in Section 1. I disagree. even to non-philosophers. I believe.being overly dramatic. 1993b). pace Blackburn.4 You are shocked and appalled and have a thought that may be expressed by the words: “That’s wrong!” What does it mean for this action to be wrong? Is it wrong because you 3 Some philosophers.” are distinct and meaningful.1. a realist “yes” or an anti-realist “no. And this. the idea that there is a fact of the matter about what’s right or what’s wrong. and that the answers one may give to this question. 4 This example is borrowed from Gilbert Harman (1977). for example. have argued that the difference between realism and anti-realism in ethics may turn out to be obscure and of little consequence. At this point. roughly. Moral realism is. The great global problems of our time—the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. or inability. I will trust that the reader will glean my intended meaning of “moral realism. chief among them Simon Blackburn (1984. to transcend the common sense morality we inherited from our ancestors. I propose that the fate of humankind will turn on our ability. that you turn the corner to find a group of youngsters lighting a cat on fire for fun.3 Suppose. the disruption of the environment. moral realism.—can only be solved through cooperation and compromise among people with radically different moral outlooks. 3 . What is so terrible about moral common sense? In a phrase. etc. is unlikely to happen so long as the people of the world hold fast to their respective versions of moral common sense. 1993a. I believe that the question “Do moral questions ever have correct answers?” is rather clear and comprehensible as philosophical questions go.

a general tendency to think in terms of objective right and wrong is. First. In Chapter 2 I will attempt to explain why it’s false.dislike it or disapprove of it? You may have such negative attitudes toward this behavior. quite problematic for two reasons. Is this behavior wrong because the community to which you belong dislikes. However. but rather objective. Contrary to common sense. the whole community were to decide that torturing cats is okay. and less important. and in Chapter 3 I will draw on recent work in moral psychology to explain why it nevertheless strikes most people as true. If. or prohibits it? Presumably not. And what is so terrible about thinking that some actions are objectively wrong? Isn’t it good that we take torturing animals to be objectively wrong? I agree with common sense moralists that in this case. moral realism is false. Second. and others like it. and more important. I propose that moral realism makes it difficult for people with different values to get 4 . Moral claims. dependent for their validity on the judgments of individuals or groups of individuals. are not merely subjective. I believe. some of them anyway. disapproves of. but if you’re an ordinary moralist you don’t think that your having these attitudes is what makes this behavior wrong. still be wrong. although we may hope that what people think about it has something to do with the fact that it’s wrong. one expresses an implicit theory concerning the metaphysics of morals. somehow. this activity would. it’s simply mistaken. by the lights of most people. The fact that torturing animals is wrong doesn’t depend on what people think about it. In answering these questions in the negative. the attribution of objective wrongness is harmless.

along with one another because people who have practical disagreements are less willing to compromise if each of them thinks she has the Moral Truth on her side. In Chapter 4 I will explain in more detail how moral realism, given the nature of moral psychology and the present state of the world, gets us into trouble. I will then advance my proposal for avoiding this trouble, a view I call revisionism, by which I advocate the elimination of moral realism from our moral thought and language. Finally, In Chapter 5 I will explore some of the practical implications and intricacies of revisionism, including its implications for moral philosophy, moral discourse, and the resolution of moral conflicts great and small. In this introductory chapter I will attempt to clarify the meta-ethical issue surrounding moral realism and provide some recent historical context.

1.1 Projectivist Anti-Realism

John Mackie (1977) argued that there are no objective values. He also claimed that ordinary moral language and thought presuppose the existence of objective values, and for this reason he characterized his meta-ethical view as an error theory. According to Mackie, claims such as “Lying is wrong” are, contrary to popular presupposition, never true. What exactly Mackie meant in denying the existence of objective values is open to interpretation, but there is a broad consensus among Mackie’s


interpreters that his denial of objective values makes him, among other things, a moral anti-realist. As a first pass, we can say that a moral anti-realist is one who believes that there are, to use Mackie’s term, no first order moral truths or moral facts. We’ll say that a first order moral claim is one that predicates (or denies the predication of) some moral property (e.g. wrongness) of some set of particular actions, persons, institutions, etc., where these particulars may be actual or merely possible. You might say that first order moral claims are ethical, as opposed to meta-ethical. Typical examples include claims such as “Lying is wrong,” and, “The affluent ought to give to charity,” and do not include claims such as “There are no moral facts.”5 (Throughout this essay, talk of “moral

While the distinction between first order and second order moral claims is no

more exotic than the familiar distinction between ethics and meta-ethics, it is a bit fuzzy. For example, the claim that “No acts whatsoever are wrong” can be read as an exceptionally broad first order/ethical claim or as a standard anti-realist meta-ethical claim. Perhaps the best way to distinguish between first and second order claims is to say that only first order claims are action-guiding in any kind of straightforward way. To say that “Lying is wrong,” is to speak against lying. Likewise, to make the first order claim that “No acts whatsoever are wrong,” is to speak in favor of a kind of broad permissiveness. In contrast, to use these words to express a meta-ethical point is to make a broad claim about the nature of morality that may or may not have significant practical implications. At present, my task is to distinguish anti-realism from realism. To this end, one might say that anti-realism is the view according to which all the moral truths


judgments” or “moral claims” should be understood as talk of first order moral judgments/claims unless otherwise noted.) Mackie described the error embodied in ordinary moral thought as one of presupposing that there are objective values when in fact there are none. For our purposes, we can characterize this putative error as one of presupposing that moral realism is true when in fact it is false. Anti-realists such as Mackie do not deny that there are moral truths in the broader sense of “truths concerning morality.” Indeed, the claim that there are no first order moral truths is one such truth. Nor do anti-realists deny that there are truths concerning morality qua psychological and sociological phenomena. “Prolifers” believe that abortion is wrong. The truth that they have this belief is a truth in good standing and, in some sense, a moral truth, but this, too, is not the sort of putative truth the anti-realist denies, as it is a truth concerning what people believe about right and wrong and not a truth concerning which things are right and wrong per se. The above account of anti-realism requires some qualification, due to the emergence of Simon Blackburn’s (1984, 1993a, 1993b) quasi-realism and “minimalist” approaches to moral truth.6 I will consider Blackburn’s views in greater detail in Section 1.4.3 and in Chapter 4, but a few words here will ward off confusion in the meantime. Blackburn calls himself a moral anti-realist, but he thinks that even a moral anti-realist can “earn the right” to talk like a moral realist, are those that are true entirely in virtue of the non-existence of moral properties, properties such as wrongness etc.

For a recent example see Timmons (1999).


that is to use the propositional language of ordinary, first order moral discourse. At the end of the day, says Blackburn, a savvy anti-realist is entitled to believe that claims such as “lying is wrong” can be true, state facts, deserve to be called “objective,” etc. Given Blackburn’s status as an anti-realist, there is a prima facie problem with identifying anti-realists as those who deny that there are first order moral truths/facts. But if an anti-realist need not deny that there are moral truths/facts, what does it take to be an anti-realist? To understand Blackburn’s answer to this question, we must consider the broadly Humean (Hume, 1888) notion of projectivism. According to the moral projectivist, “We have sentiments or other reactions caused by natural features of things and we ‘gild or stain’ the world by describing it as if it contained features answering to these sentiments, in the way that the niceness of an ice cream answers to the pleasure it gives us,” (Blackburn, 1993a, pg. 152). In Spreading the Word (1984, pg. 171) Blackburn writes:

Suppose that we say we project an attitude or habit or other commitment which is not descriptive onto the world, when we speak and think as though there were a property of things which our sayings describe, which we can reason about, know about, be wrong about, and so on.

Blackburn is a moral projectivist, and he explains his anti-realism in terms of his projectivism. (While projectivism and anti-realism are closely allied, it is not a


forgone conclusion that projectivism implies anti-realism. See Chapter 3.) According to him, what makes him an anti-realist is not his denial of moral facts/truths—Blackburn will ultimately affirm these things—but rather his belief that moral judgments “start theoretical life” as “a stance, or conative state or pressure on choice or action,” (1993a, pg. 168). I believe that Mackie and Blackburn have roughly the same meta-ethical picture, though their respective choices of word make this obscure: Blackburn says that there are a great many first order moral truths, while Mackie says that no such claims are true. Mackie says that ordinary moral thought and language are infected with error while Blackburn denies that this is so. Nevertheless, I claim—and many philosophers would no doubt agree—that Blackburn and Mackie are not really all that far apart, and this is reflected in the fact that they both endorse projectivist anti-realism. I find Blackburn’s vocabulary confusing and misleading. Blackburn is an anti-realist, which means that he doesn’t think that moral properties are real, but he is nevertheless willing to say that there are truths and facts concerning which things have these unreal properties. Blackburn (1984, pg. 171) says that moral judgments are not descriptive, but at the same time he wants to speak like a realist, to say, for example, that “wrong” is an apt description of Nixon’s behavior. To keep things straight, I will speak in a non-Blackburnian fashion. Moral truths and moral facts, as I employ these concepts, must not in general7 depend8 on

Some bona fide moral facts (i.e. not quasi-facts) might be mind-dependent in

the following way. Suppose that it is wrong to do something that one believes to


be wrong. Were that so, the wrongness of a given act would depend on the agent’s moral sensibilities and, more specifically, on his beliefs about the wrongness of the act. Hence the “in general” qualification above.

One might wonder what one means by “depend” in this case, and a

Blackburnian interested in trying to make anti-realism look as much like common sense as possible might deny that, according to his view, moral truths “depend” on our patterns of projection or moral sensibilities. I maintain, however, that in the end projectivism commits one to such a dependence. At the very least the projectivist is committed to a causal story about our moral judgments. Our judgments concerning what things are right and wrong exhibit a causal dependence on our patterns of projection. According to Blackburn, the fact that we so often get things “correct” is not some coincidence between our patterns of projection and some set of further, moral facts. Rather, we know what’s right and what’s wrong by “perceiving” the properties we’ve projected onto the world. One might—and I think one should—then conclude that according to this view what’s right and what’s wrong depends on what our moral sensibilities happen to be. If our patterns of projection cause our moral judgments to be what they are (and we’re not just getting lucky when we get things right), then it would seem that the truth of these judgments depends on our patterns of projection. But Blackburn is not happy with this because it makes his view look like something ordinary people would not believe because most people don’t think that the facts about what’s right or wrong depend, in general, on what people think is right or wrong. What’s a quasi-realist to do?


our patterns of projection, on our moral sensibilities.9 If, for example, it’s a fact that lying is wrong, if it’s true that lying is wrong, this fact/truth cannot depend on Out of the analytic philosopher’s tool box comes the rigid designator. We can say that moral terms implicitly refer to the sensibilities that we happen to have in the actual world. Thus, when we consider a possible world in which people have different moral sensibilities, ones that we find abhorrent, we can still say that the things we think of as wrong are wrong in their world, too, because the content of “wrong” is determined by our sensibilities and not by theirs. See Davies and Humberstone (1980). We will discuss this strategy in greater detail in Section 2.4.3, but for now I’ll simply note that this strategy only pushes the bump in the carpet. Taking the irksome dependence of moral truth on our actual moral sensibilities and packing it into the meanings of moral terms gets rid of the straightforward counterfactual dependence discussed above, but only by introducing a new, equally irksome kind of dependence. Making it true by definition that first order moral truths depend on our actual moral sensibilities is no improvement. The problem with both kinds of dependence may be explained in terms of common sense morality’s commitment to what I call the ultimate asymmetry between the things we call “right” and the things we call “wrong.” (Again, See Section 2.4.3.)

Others besides Blackburn may object to this characterization of realism. John

McDowell (1985), for example, considers himself a realist through and through, but nevertheless claims that moral facts depend on our moral sensibilities in more or less the way that I’ve claimed that realism forbids. For the purposes of


our tendency to project wrongness onto acts of lying. When considering such mind-dependent “truths, “ “facts,” “properties,” and “realities” a la Blackburn I will this essay, however, it makes more sense to classify self-described realists such as McDowell as anti-realists of a Blackburnian stripe. In the next chapter I will argue against moral realism as defined above. Some of the arguments and comments from that chapter will apply to views such as McDowell’s, but those views are not the primary targets in that discussion. In Section 4.6.1 I will argue against Blackburn’s position on pragmatic grounds, and those arguments will apply to views such as McDowell’s as well. It’s worth noting that many of the views I classify as realist and discuss as such in the next chapter could in principle be excluded from the realist camp, as these are often views according to which the moral facts depend in some way on our subjective responses. They are, however, typically views according to which the moral facts are mind-dependent in a less straightforward way than they are for McDowell and Blackburn. McDowell and Blackburn essentially endorse our moral sensibilities as they are (though they make provisions for the possibility of improving or correcting them), and insofar as they are realists (quasi- or otherwise), they see moral inquiry as discontinuous with scientific inquiry (Darwall, Gibbard, and Railton,1992). In contrast, the realists discussed in the next chapter tend to view moral inquiry as continuous with scientific inquiry, as exploring a domain of facts a la scientific facts. They tend to offer meta-ethical theories that they hope will pave the way for a better, and potentially surprising, understanding of what the moral facts are.


speak instead of “quasi-truths,” “quasi-facts,” “quasi-realities,” “quasi-properties,” etc. When I speak of anti-realism’s being true or realism’s being false, I am talking about the possibility that there are no moral truths/facts while leaving it open as to whether or not there are any moral quasi-truths or quasi-facts. When I speak of something’s being right (or wrong), I speak of its being truly and factually right (or wrong) and not quasi-right (or quasi-wrong). Mark Timmons’ (1999) meta-ethical views are similar to Blackburn’s, and he takes a similarly liberal approach to issues concerning what sorts of claims may legitimately be called “true.” For truth-minimalists such as Timmons, to assert that a claim p is true is just to assert that p, and there is nothing more to a claim’s being true than its being “assertible.” A moral claim can be true even if it does not correctly describe moral reality in a way that moral anti-realism prohibits. (And, says the minimalist, what goes for “truth” goes for “facts,” not surprisingly since these terms are generally taken to be interdefinable. True claims state facts, and statements of fact are true.) Although Timmons is a minimalist, he recognizes that there is a sense in which his brand of anti-realism rules out the existence of moral truths and moral facts. To acknowledge this he adopts a convention according to which the anti-realist denies that there are moral TRUTHS and moral FACTS and that moral judgments correctly describe the WORLD and the moral PROPERTIES it contains, even though there are moral truths, moral facts, and moral judgments that correctly describe the world


and its moral properties. I prefer to avoid this manner of speaking,10 but I can use it to clarify my own terminology. By “truths” I mean TRUTHS, and by “facts,” I mean FACTS, etc.

The organizing questions of this essay are these:

1. Is moral realism true? Is there any fact of the matter about what’s morally right or wrong?

2. If moral realism is false, what should we do about it? What consequences does anti-realism have for our moral practices and our moral discourse in particular?

The rest of this chapter is devoted to clarifying these questions and identifying some possible answers.


I prefer to avoid it because it suggests that “truths” and “facts,” etc. are not

ordinarily taken to be TRUTHS and FACTS, etc.


1.2 Two Meanings of “Moral”

Ask a garden-variety Westerner what it is to be a moral person and you might get an answer like this: “A moral person is one who thinks about what’s right and what’s wrong, tries to do the right thing, and usually manages to do so.” You also might get an answer like this: “A moral person is one who doesn’t just think about herself, but who thinks about the interests of others and tries to take the interests of others into account in her actions.” I suspect that most people would say that these answers are very similar, if not two different ways of saying the same thing. After all, one might say, thinking about what’s right and what’s wrong and trying to do what’s right is, for the most part, just a matter of thinking about the interests of others and trying to take them into account in one’s actions.11 Consider the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. One might say that morality, at its core, is simply about giving sufficient consideration to the interests of others in one’s thought and action. If moral realism is true—i.e. if there really is a fact of the matter about what’s right and what’s wrong—and if our ordinary assumptions about the general content of morality are correct, then there is no problem with saying that the two answers given above are roughly equivalent. Doing the right thing is just a matter of taking into account the interests of others (in the appropriate way),

At least in Western culture. See Section 3.5.


and, likewise, taking into account the interests of others (in the appropriate way) is de facto doing the right thing. But what if moral realism is false? What if there really is no fact of the matter about what’s right and what’s wrong? In that case, the differences between these two accounts start to matter, especially for people who believe that there is no fact of the matter about what’s right and what’s wrong. Consider the case of Brett. Brett is an anti-realist. He denies that there is any fact of the matter about what’s right or wrong. But he’s not a psychopath. In fact, he is, by all the usual measures, a caring and considerate person. As it happens, Brett has made a promise that has become unexpectedly costly to keep, and now he must decide whether or not to keep it. He considers the interests of the person to whom he made his promise and how that person will feel depending on whether or not he breaks it. He considers how he would feel if he were in that person’s shoes. He considers his own interests and the effects that breaking or not breaking his promise will have on himself. He considers all of these things not as means of paying lip-service (or “mind-service”) to accepted deliberative norms, but because he sincerely cares about them. After deliberating for what he takes to be a reasonable amount of time, he makes his decision, and it’s a decision that most people would think reasonable. At no point does Brett aim to do “the right thing,” as he does not believe that there is a “right thing” to be done. Instead he examines the situation in light of his values and in light of the facts as he understands them and then acts accordingly.


) The fact that Superman is a fictional 17 . Given what we know about Brett.e. Brett has had no thoughts at all about right and wrong and has made no effort whatsoever to do what is right. unbeknownst to her. in a very real sense. Lois’ ability to dream about Clark in this way is made possible by the fact that she is a character in a fiction according to which Superman is real. i. Brett’s case is similar to that of Lois Lane who is. Brett can be thinking about right and wrong even though he doesn’t know it. We. Brett is not a moral person.Suppose this sort of behavior is typical of Brett. even though she doesn’t know it and even though she would balk at the suggestion that that is what she has been up to. in the sense that matters to those who might know him. however. This suggests that there is something wrong with the first account. But according to the first account given above. If moral realism is correct. the second account seems to get things right. dreaming about Clark Kent when she dreams about Superman. even though he explicitly denies that that is what he is doing. Brett is. the problem is easily solved. can’t dream about any real person by dreaming about Superman. a moral person. as he is very much concerned with the interests of others and with making sure that his actions reflect those interests. Moreover. an intimate connection between him and the heroic figure of whom she is so fond. Lois can dream about Clark without knowing it because there is. Is he a moral person? He is according to the second account given above. nor can we dream about Superman by dreaming about some real person. (Christopher Reeve doesn’t count. if there is a fact of the matter about right and wrong. Under these circumstances.

” These two senses tend to overlap under an assumption of moral realism. Nevertheless. then the first standard is once again in trouble. if “right” and “wrong” are. etc. I claim. if realism is false.character rules this out. there are (at least) two different senses of “moral. that he would do anything for a buck. mistaken or not. as Brett can no longer be considered a “moral person” given (a) his lack of interest in doing what is “right” and (b) the absence of any connection between Brett’s thoughts and intentions on the one hand and some first order moral facts on the other. the infamous fight promoter Don King is described by one of the interviewees as “amoral. However. Brett is a moral person in the sense that really matters. Rather he meant that King is untrustworthy and ruthless. even for those of us who have been taken in by the fiction. He calls King “amoral” because of King’s lack of regard for the interests of others. Thus moral realism can save the first account. allowing even an avowed anti-realist such as Brett to think about right and wrong without knowing it. but they come apart when realism is called into 12 Another illustration of the same point: In the documentary When We Were Kings (1997). a lack of regard that is compatible with both realist and anti-realist meta-ethical commitments on King’s part. His unusual meta-ethical beliefs.” It is unlikely that this interviewee was merely attributing to King an anti-realist meta-ethical view. mythical creatures. 18 . like Superman.12 I draw two lessons from the above discussion. seem largely beside the point when it comes to evaluating the quality of his character. First.

question. it is the second sense of moral. the one according to which morality is a matter of having a sufficiently high level of consideration for the interests of others. In other words. I trust. etc. Second. One might question my attempt to separate these two senses.5. being a decent person requires some sort of commitment to moral realism. the psychology attributed to Brett is. To give ourselves some terminology that reflects our distinction between the two sense of “moral” outlined above we can define the following two terms. 13 14 Again.2.1. I’ve used the example of Brett. The objection is that Brett couldn’t maintain his commitment to considering the interests of others were he to really believe that there is no fact of the matter about right and wrong. this is more true in Western culture than in others. See Section 3. and I will work under the assumption that it is coherent and that we are warranted in accepting the two lessons drawn above.”13 These lessons can be resisted. to pull these two senses of “moral” apart.14 I will consider this objection in greater detail in Section 4. moral1: of or relating to the facts concerning right and wrong. a person who has no interest in right and wrong but a deep concern for the interests of others. Point due to David Sussman. but on the grounds that the story told above about Brett is incoherent. 19 . which captures what is essential to being a “moral person. plausible enough. not on the grounds that moral realism is true per se. In the meantime.

For example.” E. provided that they are interpreted in a realist way. once again. Alternatively. The “etc. “You did the moral thing.” “right.g. e. but perfectly ordinary use of “moral” by which it means “morally good” or “morally commendable.” indicates that other moral concepts besides that of rightness and wrongness fall under the moral1 heading as well. even if you were the only being in existence. For example. provided. to commit suicide. 20 .g.” or “obligation” to behave in a certain way. one makes a moral1 claim by calling some institution “unjust” or by saying that one has a “duty.15 (Note that neither of these definitions reflects a different. we can ignore these complications since the point here (that being “moral” does not necessarily involve being a moral realist) may be made in either case.) For our purposes however. and in other cultures there is greater emphasis on moral violations do not have any obvious victim. we have: moral2: of or relating to serving (or refraining from undermining) the interests of others.5.”16) 15 Morality is not exclusively limited to behavior that affects the interests of others.This is the “moral” that is distinctive of moral realism. some say that it would be wrong to do certain things. (See Section 3. that these terms are interpreted in a suitably realistic fashion.

16 Note that when we considered whether or not Brett is a “moral person” we may have been using “moral” in a sense that merges this third sense with moral1 and/or moral2. In other words. We may be commending him for being that way or making a first order moral claim to the effect that being that way is morally1 good.Ordinarily we do not distinguish between morality1 and morality2. we. If we say that Brett is a “moral person” we are saying that he engages in (or is capable of engaging in) moral1 and/or moral2 reflection. The practice of trying to act rightly inevitably subsumes the practice of taking into consideration the interests of others. but we may be saying something further. behave morally2 simply by doing our best to behave morally1. 21 . No pair of words is easily co-opted for the job. (Hence the need for artificial subscripts. 17 “Altruism” as a synonym for “morality2” is on the right track. but not quite good enough because “altruism” refers primarily to active helping behavior whereas morality2 is concerned with refraining from harming as much as with active helping. As far as I can see there is no ordinary term that is close to equivalent to morality1.17) I take this as an indication of the pervasiveness of moral realism. as realists.

What we mean by “moral practice” and “moral discourse” will depend on which meaning of “moral” we adopt. and moral anti-realism as the thesis that it is not.3 Some Further Clarifications Above we said that moral anti-realism is the thesis that there are no first order moral facts/truths. we can think of moral realism as the thesis that morality1 is for real. If enough people (perhaps one is enough) think that some behavior is a matter of moral concern then it is of moral concern and therefore is a moral practice in this very broad sense. For now we can remain neutral by saying that moral practices are those behaviors performed by rational agents that are of moral concern without choosing between the two senses of “moral. It should now be clear that the first order claims in question are putative moral1 facts/truths since they are claims concerning which things are right. we did not say whether we were talking about putative moral1 facts/truths or putative moral2 facts/truths. having not yet distinguished between morality1 and morality2.” When it comes to what counts as a moral practice we are democratic.1. In fact. (A consequence of this is that whether or not something is a 22 . We are interested in the consequences of anti-realism for our moral practices and discourse. and the like. but. wrong.

a moral practice.moral practice depends on the psychological states of the members of the relevant community. according to this usage. Thus.) Note once again that. The subscriptless “moral” will often appear when we are discussing our present moral discourse and practices since. We’ll say that moral discourse is communication concerning one’s moral beliefs and/or values with the aim of guiding moral practices. in this sense. which is a part of the natural language in which the moral discourse takes place. the moral1 discourse and practices coincide respectively with the moral2 discourse and practices. In what follows. where “moral” appears without a subscript the reader can assume that both interpretations are appropriate. we don’t ordinarily distinguish between the two senses of “moral. Moral discourse takes place using a moral language or a moral vocabulary. I divide the responses into two general categories: conservative and revisionist. to say that something is a “moral practice” is not to commend it in any way. the practice of executing alleged witches is.” In a realist culture such as ours. 23 . as noted above. but merely to indicate that it is of moral concern. In what follows I will consider a number of views concerning the practical consequences of anti-realism.

many philosophers began to have doubts about moral realism. may appear to be descriptive. 1.18 or both (Stevenson).19 That’s 18 Hare. and as a result may say that there are moral facts/truths. the truth of anti-realism provides us (or would provide us) with no general reason to revise our moral discourse and practices. and not one of revising them. All the same. One response to these doubts was the emergence of non-cognitivism. It seems to me. that Ayer’s (1952) account is very error-theoretical in spirit. which is to say that they do not state facts and are not truth-apt. 1952). but they are in fact expressions of approval/disapproval (Ayer. 1952). fact-stating (when accurate). like Timmons (1999).4. 19 At least that’s the standard interpretation. say the noncognitivists. Moral judgments.1. his view does not appear to be compatible with moral realism in the sense defined above. The non-cognitivists took their enterprise to be one of understanding our moral practices and discourse as they are. The Non-Cognitivists During the 20th Century. takes something of a minimalist view of moral truth.4 The Conservative Approach According to proponents of the conservative approach. and truth-apt. commands of some kind (Hare.1. according to which moral judgments are not descriptive. however. Witness the title of the relevant 24 .

1. We think that moral claims are sometimes true.not to say that these philosophers lacked first order moral agenda.” One gets the feeling that Ayer is not merely interested in explicating the nature of moral talk. Ayer (1952) may have been an exception. contemporary noncognitivists such as Alan Gibbard (1990) tend to take stances similar to those of their predecessors.20 In this regard. but we are mistaken. do not exist. Nevertheless. is a staunch defender of utilitarianism (1981). while agreeing with non-cognitivists that moral claims never in fact describe the world. He agrees with moral realists that first order moral claims are intended to be descriptive. fact-stating. but—to some extent. our moral thought and language presuppose the existence of objective values which. and Logic: “Critique of Ethics and Theology. 20 Once again. says Mackie. 25 . Truth. at least—in debunking it as well. or qualify as truths. and truth-apt. Hare. Mackie Mackie’s view combines the anti-realism traditionally associated with noncognitivism and the cognitivism traditionally associated with realism.2. these philosophers did not see the truth of non-cognitivism as providing any general reasons for changing the way we talk about moral issues or for changing our minds about any particular moral issues.4. as it happens. state facts. for example. chapter of Language.

Rather. that these first order commitments do not follow in any straightforward way from his meta-ethical commitments. Burgess doesn’t define what he means by “practices” or “the content… of our moral practices. [Mackie] seems to have thought it fairly uncontentious that the acceptance of an error theory for moral language ought to incline us to change neither the content nor the form of our moral practices nor our attitude toward those practices. The consensus in the literature seems to be that Mackie does not advocate any such change. 535) offers the following reading. Burgess (1998. however. J. permanent defects (1977. 26 . pg. as we do.” If the definition that I’ve given above is on target. his interpreters tend to agree that Mackie would have us talk and act in the moral domain.Mackie clearly advocates a change in the way we understand our moral discourse and other practices. somewhat more mildly. One could argue. pg.” For example. then it’s clear that Mackie does advocate some change in “the content of our moral practices. 199). We should give up our belief in objective values and bear this in mind when we use moral vocabulary and participate in moral discourse. A. The extent to which Mackie advocates actually changing our moral discourse and practices is unclear. more or less. that insofar as Mackie does advocate changes in “the content of our moral practices” these changes are motivated by concerns that are largely independent of his metaethical views or. he advocates infanticide for babies born with sufficiently severe.

supposedly infected vocabulary (1993a. In the following passage Mackie does seem to describe—if only in very general terms—how a revamped moral discourse could show its innocence of the old error. My hope is that concrete moral issues can be argued out without appeal to any mythical objective values or requirements or obligations or transcendental necessities… (1977. pp. Mackie did not draw the consequences one might have expected from this position…. [One might have expected him to say that] our old. 149-150). but that seems unlikely 27 . he is quite happy to go on to express a large number of straightforward moral views… All these are expressed in the old. On the contrary. Perhaps he means by this nothing more than that an improved moral discourse will make no reference to the Will of God and the like. infected moral concepts or ways of thought should be replaced by ones which serve our legitimate needs.Blackburn has the following to say concerning the practical upshot of Mackie’s view. but avoid the mistake. in the second part of the book. Yet Mackie does not say what such a way of thought would look like. and how it would differ in order to show its innocence of the old error. pg. 199).

But which “rights” and “duties” are supposed to be mythical? From reading Part I of Mackie’s book one easily gets the impression that they all are.” he says the following: [My approach would be] not just a rule-utilitarianism but a rule-right-dutydisposition utilitarianism (pg. If Mackie thinks that rights and duties divide into the mythical and the non-mythical.” but. One has to wonder exactly what sorts of appeals he’d like to eliminate. If none is mythical. in the course of discussing whether or not his normative view could properly be called “utilitarian. It sounds as if Mackie’s approach allows. 200).21 it appears that the modifier “mythical” is crucial to his maintaining consistency. appeals to “rights” and “duties” in spite of his rejection of appeals to “mythical… requirements or obligations.given that Mackie’s targets include atheist moral philosophers. then how could we appeal to any rights and duties without appealing to mythical ones? 21 See Kanger and Kanger (1966). then why is he worried about us appealing to the mythical ones? If they’re all mythical. The list includes “mythical… requirements or obligations. then it’s rather odd that he neither mentions this explicitly nor explains how to tell the two apart. if not encourages. 28 .” Given the conceptual connections between “rights” and “duties” on the one hand and “requirements” and “obligations” on the other.

4. Blackburn calls himself an anti-realist because he believes that moral judgments “start theoretical life” (1993a. and the advancement of such an agenda would certainly change our moral practices in the broad sense of “moral practices” defined above.3. whether or not Mackie advocates substantial change in our moral practices and discourse is unclear. Whether or not Mackie would have our moral practices remain the same in some more narrow sense of “moral practices” is an open question. 168) as expressions of noncognitive attitudes rather than as descriptions of features of the world. pg. as his interpreters suggest. What is clear is that Mackie fails even to gesture toward an alternative moral vocabulary or set of moral concepts to replace the error-infected ones we have. it seems safe to say. He clearly has an agenda as a normative ethicist. Blackburn’s Quasi-Realism Once again. and Burgess and Blackburn suggest that he would. He calls himself a quasi-realist because he believes that moral judgments can “earn the right” to be expressed using the propositional and apparently descriptive/realist language that we ordinarily use to express moral judgments. He advocates substantial change in neither our moral practices nor our moral discourse. Given that. that Mackie advocates substantial change in neither the general style of our moral discourse nor the vocabulary in which it is conducted. projectivist anti-realist understanding of what 29 .Once again. 1. though he does favor a more sophisticated.

” though importantly different from ordinary non-moral predicates such as “is over six feet tall. and discourse and not as grounds for revising them. As noted above. Timmons’ view is strikingly similar to Blackburn’s. that Mackie takes the consequences to be minimal.4. While Mackie believes that the truth of anti-realism undermines ordinary moral thought (and perhaps to some extent ordinary moral practices/discourse). he is not entirely clear about what he takes the consequences of anti-realism to be for our moral practices and discourse. practices. 1. Mackie believes that the truth of anti-realism undermines ordinary moral thought.we are doing when we moralize.” are sufficiently well-behaved to be retained and to play the action-guiding role that they typically play. Blackburn views the acceptance of anti-realism as a deepening of our understanding of our moral thought. According to Blackburn. and he views Mackie’s lack of interest in revising our moral practices/discourse as casting doubt on Mackie’s claim that ordinary moral thought and language are infected with error. Blackburn is one such interpreter.4. The comparison between Blackburn and Mackie is illuminating. though the consensus among interpreters is. Timmons’ Ethical Contextualism In his recent book Morality Without Foundations (1999) Mark Timmons defends a view that he calls ethical contextualism. once again. predicates such as “is right” and “is wrong. Both are anti-realists with ontological commitments similar. if not 30 .

Timmons attempts to ward off the specter of relativism (relativity to semantic context in Timmons’ case) by appeal to a distinction between an “engaged” and “detached” moral standpoint. frameworks which have no room for mind-independent moral facts. the former being the standpoint from which one can legitimately say that moral judgments are categorical and not relative. Instead. the truth of a moral judgment is a matter of its being “correctly assertible. For Timmons. the truth value of the sentence “I am seated” will depend on the semantic context in which it is uttered. maintains that moral truths are dependent in their semantic contexts in a much deeper way.” where a claim’s correct assertibility depends not only on the mindindependent world but on the semantic norms that are invoked by the context in which it is made. they argue that there is a legitimate notion of truth that can apply to moral judgments within their anti-realist frameworks. to Mackie’s. 31 .22 Like Blackburn.identical. For them. however. Both take a liberal approach to truth. and both deny. that there is an error embodied in ordinary moral thought and language. contra Mackie. 22 Of course. even hard-line correspondence theorists recognize that the truth- values of sentences depend on semantic context. Timmons. denying that true claims must (as a general rule) accurately describe a mind-independent world.

pg. The most developed account of fictionalism appears in Richard Joyce’s The Myth of Morality (2001). while an “esoteric” prescriptive fictionalist advocates a system by which a select group of individuals self-consciously indulge in the realist fiction while allowing or even encouraging others to believe it. though he does not use this term.) Likewise.5. presumably because maintaining the fiction has. Joyce defends his version of error theory 23 “Descriptive fictionalism” could also designate the rather implausible view that some or most people are already error theorists who have adopted prescriptive fictionalism. desirable effects. self-conscious pretense that moral realism is true. Mackie does not describe himself as a prescriptive fictionalist. but unbeknownst to their authors.4. it could designate the view that descriptive fictionalism (in the sense just mentioned) describes the unconfused state that most resembles our present state of meta-ethical confusion. on balance.23 Mackie is a fictionalist in this sense. Proponents of prescriptive fictionalism are descriptive fictionalists who nevertheless advocate speaking and acting as if some form of moral realism were true. Descriptive fictionalism is error theory.1. 32 . According to this view. pg. 150) and Hinckfuss (1987. v) appear to suggest that he is. (See below. Moral Fictionalism Moral fictionalism is best understood as two distinct and complementary views. like those made in a fiction. What one might call a “democratic” prescriptive fictionalist advocates a widespread. ordinary moral claims are all false. but Blackburn (1993a.

even though they do not. in a somewhat Mackiean vein. He argues that self-consciously maintained fictions can.6.” John Rawls (1971. writing both before and since Mackie. reactions.7. or whose views share certain affinities with anti-realism. We will consider Joyce’s views in greater detail in Chapter 4. 1. Foot (1972) defends the view (a view she has since rejected (1994)) that morality may be best understood as a system of “hypothetical imperatives. whose meta-ethical views are anti-realist. Others such as Williams (1985a) 33 . play an important role in a culture’s practices and that avowed error theorists who think and speak as if moral realism were true stand to gain important benefits. chief among them an effective device for combating weakness of the will in moral2 contexts. charges that “modern moral philosophy” is flawed in that its central concepts are rendered unintelligible by our present-day tendency to reject divine law.4.(descriptive fictionalism) and then argues that maintaining moral1 discourse and thought as a fiction may be advisable given our interests (prescriptive fictionalism). describe themselves as “anti-realists. (See Section 4. and sometimes do. 1980).) Anscombe (1958). or attitudes. for example. Others There are a number of philosophers.1. is a constructivist who denies the existence of moral facts/truths that are independent of our beliefs. and perhaps would not.” commands the authority of which depends on the values and commitments of those who might obey them.

at least given certain background assumptions. an “amoral” society is one whose 34 . do not strive to meet any.5 The Revisionist Approach In contrast to the conservative thinkers described above. Hinckfuss’ Moral “Nihilism” In a discussion paper entitled “The Moral Society: Its Structure and Effects.” On the one hand. The practical upshot of this position depends crucially on what one means by “moral. one might take “moral” to encompass both the moral1 and the moral2. provide us with general reasons for revising our moral discourse and practices.” He takes nihilism to be the view that there are no moral obligations (pg. one in which the inhabitants do not believe in the existence of moral obligations and. Under this interpretation. What matters for our purposes is that none of these philosophers proposes any substantial revisions in the general form of our moral discourse and practices. or would. 1.and Warnock (1971) may fall in this category as well.1.” Ian Hinckfuss (1987) defends “moral nihilism. revisionist metaethicists believe that the truth of anti-realism does. naturally. v).5. Hinckfuss favors an “amoral” society. 1.

it does not capture the difference between morality1 and morality2. in my terms. As Hinckfuss uses the term—and it’s a perfectly ordinary use— “immorality” depends on the truth of moral realism. not morality2. but might nevertheless place great value on practices embodying consideration of the interests of others. Hinckfuss himself. to matters moral1 and not exclusively to matters moral2. as one might 24 Hinckfuss (pp. 14-15) does make a distinction between “immorality” and “amorality” which. from what I’m told. But what I call “amorality2” or “immorality2” does not depend on moral realism for its application. To do something “immoral” is to contravene the moral facts. i.. I should emphasize. as before. is the distinction between “immorality1” and “amorality1. however. on morality2. One who places no special value 35 . Its members would be like Brett and. shun all talk of and concern with “right” and “wrong” etc.members (a) believe that there is no fact of the matter about right and wrong and a fortiori make no attempt to behave in accordance with such facts and (b) place no special value on practices embodying consideration for the interests of others.) Although Hinckfuss’ language frequently suggests the first and more radical interpretation. an “amoral” society would. (I take it for granted that “moral” must refer. one might take “moral” to refer more narrowly to matters moral1. that Hinckfuss does not explicitly distinguish between the two senses of “moral”24 and. at least in part. Under this interpretation.e. On the other hand. I’m confident that what Hinckfuss really opposes is morality1.” While this distinction captures an important difference between two possible ways of relating to morality1.

36 . Hinckfuss does make one positive recommendation for the shaping of moral2 life. Blackburn (1984. if necessary.25 on the interests of others is amoral2 or perhaps immoral2. morality1) there is no practical need to think or talk about the extent to which we want to be (im)moral1 because it’s impossible to be (im)moral1 if moral realism is false. even if we reject moral realism and morality1. we still are left with a question concerning how we will think and talk about our moral2 concerns—a very important question in my opinion and those of many other philosophers.e. If moral realism is false. then once one does away with what Hinckfuss calls “morality” (i. The difference between these two distinctions will prove to be important. attempt to devise mutually acceptable ways of resolving their conflict. But.g. He advocates “rational resolution of conflicts” whereby disputants first attempt to clarify the facts relevant to their dispute and sort out any conceptual misunderstandings between them and then. 25 For an earlier view similar to Hinckfuss’. he does not have much to say about what sort of moral2 life he envisions for his amoral1 society. 1993a). see Stirner (1973). and such people can exist even if there are no moral facts. We can infer from his amoralism1 that members of Hinckfussian amoral society will neither use characteristically moral1 language nor appeal to moral1 considerations. e. He says next to nothing about the moral2 practices and discourse it would support.expect.

While J. and like Hinckfuss. Burgess (1979) defends a view he calls “Anethicism. Burgess. P. 37 . believes that ordinary moral thought and language are deeply flawed in that they mistakenly presuppose the existence of objective values.3.5.2. Hinckfuss. P. J. a topic on which he does not comment. P. P. Garner. 1. Burgess suggests that we eliminate morality1. Burgess.” (Pg. Garner’s “Compassionate Amoralism” Richard Garner defends a version of revisionism in his book Beyond Morality (1994). John P. In short. in spite of the fact that ordinary moral thought and language presuppose that there are.” John P. J. Unlike Mackie. he thinks that we should drop all talk of “right” and “wrong” and any other vocabulary that furthers the illusion that there are objective values.1. Like Mackie and Hinckfuss. P. Burgess claims that there are no objective values.” According to Burgess “Anethicism is to ethics as atheism is to theology. 1). Like Hinckfuss and J. The extent to which he favors the retention of morality2 depends on the content of the personal ideals and group mores he favors.5. like Mackie. and John P. Burgess’ “Anethicism” In an unpublished paper entitled “Against Ethics. Burgess is happy to talk about personal ideals and group mores. Burgess thinks that the truth of anti-realism gives us reason to change the nature of our moral discourse and our moral practices. J.

he argues that we should do away with all moral talk and all appeal to moral considerations. 1. who lack all conscience and community feeling.” 26 John P. Garner favors only amoralism1. 3). He suggests that we replace our interest in morality with “compassion. and a disposition to be nonduplicitous. 17) agrees. Burgess (Pg. but this is not so. His ideal society is one in which its citizens care deeply about each others’ interests.” (Pg. Garner calls himself an “amoralist” and his book “Beyond Morality. “There are some people. Yet one school of moral philosophers think we should all be like them. to both morality1 and morality2.e. These are the 38 . a desire to know what is going on. Radical Nihilism I use the term radical nihilism to cover a family of views united in their rejection of both morality1 and morality2.4. He believes that adopting the “amoral” position prevents one from being distracted by the confusing and endless squabbles over moral principles and moral language and allows one to attend to the relevant facts in making one’s decisions. They are delinquents and criminals and are generally held in low esteem by law-abiding citizens. It is this family of views that ordinarily comes to mind when one hears the word “nihilism. i. not amoralism2.”26 (Hinckfuss calls himself a “nihilist. might suggest that Garner is opposed to morality in its entirety. called sociopaths.5. taken in isolation.” These facts.

pg. fine. however. depending on how one interprets his views. nihilists.” 39 . “Do whatever you want. a “radical nihilist. proclaiming that morality2 is for the weak and that any consideration for the interests of others is pure foolishness. He’s a nihilist. If you care about the interests of others. but rather because a number of philosophers suggest that it is an unwitting.) Radical nihilists not only reject moral realism (i. whose motto is ‘Fais ce que voudras!’” Note also that in the Coen Brothers’ film The Big Lebowski (1998) Bunny Lebowski assures The Dude that her nearby male friend will not object to The Dude’s blowing on her toes: “Uli doesn’t care about anything. may be considered a radical nihilist. undeniable that moral anti-realism is often seen as a dangerous doctrine. I think.but is not. too. just as relativism is felt to undermine any real commitment (1993a. morality1) but are also either indifferent to or hostile toward morality2.” and thus not a “nihilist” as the term is typically used. Blackburn writes: It is. that’s fine.) Radical nihilism warrants some attention. no noteworthy philosophers within the Anglo-American tradition endorse radical nihilism in either form. If you don’t. a more or less surreptitious denial of the importance of ethics… It is thought to consort with lack of real seriousness. 208).e. The indifferent radical nihilist says. (Nietzsche. but nonetheless inevitable. As far as I know.” The hostile radical nihilist goes even further. consequence of antirealism and/or error theory. and as such would be its most prominent proponent. not because of its appeal. as I read him.

Consider the contrast between. MacIntyre’s comments concern emotivism. the following comments apply equally well to all forms of anti-realism. for example. but. end up with the morals of a French gangster (1984. 197). if consistent. as MacIntyre explains. Thus. rather than respecting their independence… books and sermons alike pronounce that the projectivist [anti-realist] should. For Kant—and a parallel point could be made about many earlier moral philosophers—the difference between a human relationship uninformed by morality and one so informed is precisely the difference between one in which each person treats the other primarily as a means to his or her ends 40 . the feature of emotivism that makes these comments relevant is its failure to recognize an impersonal source of moral authority. Kantian ethics and emotivism on this point. What is the key to the social content of emotivism? It is the fact that emotivism entails the obliteration of any genuine distinction between manipulative and non-manipulative social relations.Elsewhere he writes: A recent influential book even believes that an emotivist should approve of manipulating people. bullying and lying and brainwashing as we please. pg. The “influential book” to which Blackburn refers is MacIntyre’s After Virtue (1981).

41 . more generally. the coherence of distinguishing morality1 from morality2.and one in which each treats the other as an end. you must reject morality2. to treat them as mere instruments for the satisfaction of your own desires. That is. 23-24). then you have no choice but to use people. The point for now is that some philosophers believe that radical nihilism is an inevitable consequence of anti-realism. It is to appeal to impersonal criteria of the validity of which each rational agent must be his or her own judge. This claim should arouse suspicion in light of the previous discussion. I noted above that some would question the coherence of the psychology attributed to Brett and. but to leave it to them to evaluate those reasons. We will revisit this issue in Section 4. that is.2. By contrast. if you reject morality1 and the objective values it requires. [Emphasis mine] MacIntyre’s suggestion is that if you reject all impersonal criteria for evaluative judgment.1. to treat someone else as a means is to seek to make him or her an instrument of my purposes by adducing whatever influences or considerations will in fact be effective on this or that occasion (Pp. It is to be unwilling to influence another except by reasons which that other he or she judges to be good. To treat someone else as an end is to offer them what I take to be good reasons for acting in one way rather than another. The case of Brett suggests that one can reject moral realism without becoming a rat-bastard.

Smith’s book is devoted to showing how one might hold on to all three claims and thus solve the moral problem. the point here depends only on Smith’s believing that Mackie’s view is successful in this regard. He simply takes it for granted—as do most of his readers. 3. One is motivated to act if and only if one has an appropriate desire and an appropriate means-end belief. 42 . I suspect—that Mackie’s view is to be embraced only as a last resort. namely Mackie’s error theory. pg. but Smith acknowledges from the outset that there is a well-known view that straightforwardly solves the problem as he describes it. Moral judgments purport to be objective. nor does he attempt to weigh the costs and benefits of his view vis-à-vis Mackie’s. and his view is compatible with Humean psychology. Whether or not that’s so.27 Smith’s framing of the problem suggests that to embrace Mackie’s error theory is not so much to solve 27 Kieran Setiya (personal communication) makes a compelling case that Mackie’s view does not solve Smith’s moral problem.Further evidence for the perceived marriage between anti-realism and radical nihilism lies in the fact that philosophers often view Mackie’s error theory as a theory of “last resort” (McNaughton. 98). 2. Smith sees the central problem of metaethics as one of finding a way to hold on to the following three claims: 1. 1988. Take for example Michael Smith in The Moral Problem. Mackie maintains that moral judgments purport to be objective and that they are intrinsically motivating. Smith doesn’t attempt to find an inconsistency in Mackie’s view. where this belief and this desire are distinct existences (“Humean psychology”). Moral judgments are intrinsically motivating.

28 28 The distortion that occurs when one assimilates anti-realism to nihilism is brought out by considering a similar assimilation in the case of aesthetics (J. suggesting that his view. properly read as “radical nihilism. say. Indeed.”—as opposed to. is not a view with much of a future. then. I trust.the moral problem as it is to admit that it’s unsolvable. Smith’s use of the word “nihilism. insofar as we are honest with ourselves. and Railton in their history of recent meta-ethics (1992) outline what they take to be the major meta-ethical contenders at the end of the Twentieth Century. Why is Mackie’s error theory so readily dismissed? I suspect it has something to do with the specter of radical nihilism. Smith (1994) ends his initial exposition of the moral problem with the following words: “Moral nihilism… looms. P. no accident. our ultimate failure to solve the moral problem without resort to an error theory would spell doom not only for morality1 but for morality2 as well. Mackie’s error theory is mentioned only briefly. exactly. Gibbard. looms? A counterintuitive metaphysical theory? What battle-worn philosopher hasn’t gone in for one of those? The fact that Mackie’s view is so widely regarded as a theory of last resort suggests that it is regarded not merely as implausible. though a well-known fixture of Twentieth Century meta-ethics.” But what. In a similar vein. If I’m right when I say that “nihilism” is. human life as we know it must come to a cold and bitter end. Smith’s account suggests that unless the moral problem can be solved by some other means. Darwall. “cognitivist irrealism”—is.” then what supposedly looms is unsettling indeed. In other words. but as downright unsettling. pace Hinckfuss. 43 .

that they would just as soon trade filet mignon for dog food and a cottage overlooking the sea for a shack next to a garbage dump.” Once again. Burgess. and that after a certain point there is no point in arguing about what is or is not beautiful since there is really no fact of the matter concerning such things.” that what is or is not beautiful is ultimately subjective. the anti-realist can reject morality1 without abandoning morality2. But. Likewise. there’s a big difference between taking a thoroughgoing subjectivist view of aesthetics and wanting to live like a swine. Many adults come to believe that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder. 44 . If the two should prove inseparable then the anti-realist’s rejection of the former will amount to a rejection of the latter as well. there’s a big difference between being a moral antirealist and being the sort of person that comes to mind when one hears the word “nihilist.Whether or not Smith and others are right about the connection between anti-realism and radical nihilism will most likely depend on the now familiar issue concerning the separability of morality1 and morality2. of course. and hence an implicit commitment to radical nihilism. Shall we dub those who hold this rather commonplace view “aesthetic nihilists?” To do so is to suggest that such people have no feel for or interest in beauty. 1979).

Although he does not ultimately take a stand on this issue. J. Burgess’ Framework for the Evaluation of Error Theories John A. and Mackie’s error theory in particular. The first intrinsic merit that an error-ridden discourse might have is its being “localized. engineers may find that sentences in the language of Newtonian physics serve 45 . Burgess believes that Mackie’s critics often move too hastily to the conclusion that Mackie cannot (in good faith) advocate the preservation of our moral practices and discourse. Burgess) has developed a framework within which error theories.1. J. his work deserves some attention since he is one of the few philosophers to address this issue explicitly. Burgess suggests that we attend to the “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” merits of this error-ridden discourse. John A.5. The second intrinsic merit such a discourse might have is its sentences’ being such that they are “as good as… [or] better than the truth” for those who knowingly indulge in their use. he is interested in the practical consequences of Mackie’s error theory. To sort the matter out. A. A.5. He wants to know whether or not our moral practices and discourse can be preserved if something like Mackie’s error theory is correct. may be evaluated. For example.” isolated from the rest of our discourses and practices in such a way that it doesn’t infect them with the error. Burgess (1998) (not to be confused with John P. He also thinks that Mackie is too complacent in his uncritical willingness to maintain our moral practices and discourse in light of his meta-ethical commitments. More specifically.

” etc. and J. if true. I propose that we eliminate all talk of “right.” J. I suggest instead that we replace our current moral talk with increased talk about morally2 relevant facts and a revamped vocabulary for moral2 evaluation that is transparently subjective. A. I advocate the simultaneous retention of morality2 and rejection of morality1.” “wrong. Hinckfuss. I advocate this radical change in the way we think and talk about morals for two main reasons.6 In Defense of Revisionism My aim is to defend a version of revisionism in the spirit of Garner. More specifically.” “rights.their purposes as well or better than their more recently devised replacements. 1. the only extrinsic merit an error-infected discourse might have is its being “pragmatically or socially useful. According to J. 46 . P.” “duties. except in contexts in which it is clear that the application of such terms does not presuppose the truth of moral realism. A. Burgess.” “obligations. In terms of practice. require some revision of our moral discourse and practices depends on (a) the extent to which the error embodied in ordinary moral thought/vocabulary is localized and (b) the intrinsic and extrinsic (de)merits of carrying on with our current moral practices/discourse. In Part II I will assess the advantages and disadvantages of maintaining ordinary moral thought and discourse. Burgess. Burgess concludes that whether or not Mackie’s error theory would.

getting rid of morality1. i. reject any sort of sharp distinction between philosophical and empirical investigation. my more modest aim is to raise a set of empirical questions 47 . Second and more importantly. will make the world a happier. but I maintain that the benefits of morality are. I say that getting rid of realist moral thought and talk. the benefits of morality2 and that we can enjoy them without the damaging effects (and false metaphysics) of morality1. a priori in the Kantian sense. am I defending this claim in a philosophical essay? To begin. Subjectively better—better according to me and my values and. for the most part. Why. and these tasks can be accomplished using traditional philosophical methods. and our moral language might as well reflect this truth. I suspect. Whether or not this is true is an empirical matter. We can maintain the moral practices that improve human life while getting rid of those that don’t. or need not be. I. Morality affords us incalculable benefits. before a question can be investigated empirically it must be raised and shown to be worthy of empirical investigation. more peaceful. Better in what sense? Objectively better? No. philosophical theories need not be constructed and defended independently of contingent matters of fact. then.e. I believe that our giving up realist talk and realist thought will make the world a better place. I believe that giving up realist moral talk will allow our language to accurately reflect the nature of morality. That is.First. Philosophy may be “a priori” in the sense of “from the armchair” but it is not. as I will argue in Chapter 2. all without the help of morality1. Along these lines. better according to you and yours. Moral anti-realism is true. like many philosophers. and more compassionate place. Second.

that we should do away with morality1 while retaining morality2. Once again Garner. Hinckfuss. How will such a society carry out its discussions of moral2 issues? 29 His comments concerning revisionism are limited to a few paragraphs at the end of his unpublished manuscript. (That is. My primary goal with respect to them is to complement and expand.concerning the likely effects of life with morality2 but without morality1 and to argue that these questions are worth investigating. I have no substantial disagreement with J. unless.29 Burgess says little or nothing about each of the following questions concerning how a society that rejects morality1 but accepts and values morality2 will conduct itself. in fact. though far from popular. relatively minor. Burgess. P. with one exception. has been defended before. Burgess calls his view “anethicism” and claims to be “against ethics. P. in which case his view and mine are substantially different. 48 . My more ambitious aim is to argue that jettisoning morality1 while retaining morality2 is an excellent idea. P. I regard J. in not so many words. The revisionist position. My disagreements with these three philosophers are. My only complaint is that J.” I think this wildly misrepresents our view with respect to morality2. indifferent or hostile to morality2. and J.) Putting aside this small difference. Burgess’ work as a point of departure. P. Burgess is. Burgess have argued. I’ll now say a few words about where this essay is headed and how the terrain it covers is different from that covered by these three philosophers.

I believe that Hinckfuss does distinguish implicitly between morality1 and morality2. My disagreements with Hinckfuss are somewhat more substantial. P. Hinckfuss calls himself a “nihilist” and advocates living in an “amoral” society. what sorts of discussions will take place.” and. guilt complexes. authoritarianism. building on the discussions in Chapters 2 and 3. as suggested by his account of the undesirable effects of “morality. to call oneself a “nihilist” and proclaim oneself an enemy of “morality” is to invite the contempt of anyone who recognizes the obvious importance of morality2. and with what vocabulary? How will its inhabitants resolve their conflicts? How will its inhabitants raise their children? Will they receive explicit moral2 education? A temporary moral1 education? How should one who would like to transform our society into an amoral1 one speak and conduct herself in the present circumstances? I will address these questions among others in Part II. thus. Burgess. as with J. “Nihilism” is usually synonymous with what I’ve called “radical nihilism.” Hinckfuss maintains that a moral society inevitably generates “elitism. First. ego 49 .Is there nothing to discuss? If there is. I take issue with some of Hinckfuss’ choice of words. but his separation of the two is incomplete.

whether or not one can effectively raise children without the use of moral1 language. could the substantive ends of the human rights movement be served without talk of “rights” and the like?) Finally.” (Pg. for example.competitions. they need some anti-realist replacement for moral1 talk. There are other questions that Hinckfuss largely ignores. That is. One might consider. and war. Like Hinckfuss. I favor the demise of morality1 and believe that the benefits of abandoning it far outweigh the costs. Likewise one might wonder whether or not leaders of worthy causes can effectively rally support without the rhetoric of morality1. I maintain that these problems are generally exacerbated by morality1. is not a recipe for eliminating all the ills of human nature. Hinckfuss. (For example. v). but often mitigated by morality2. For example. and therefore it is important to separate morality’s components in assessing the damage done by “morality. one might wonder along with Richard Joyce (2001) whether moral1 language and thought can be an effective device for combating weakness of the will. the members of his “amoral” society will need some way of talking about evaluative matters concerning behavior.”30 One of my aims vis-à-vis Hinckfuss is to give a more measured account of the advantages and disadvantages of revisionism. economic inequality. I think Hinckfuss’ treatment of this issue does not do justice to the potential benefits of moral1 practices and discourse and the potential costs of abandoning them. 50 . however. Still. while likely to have many beneficial effects. proposes no such replacement 30 In Chapter 4 I argue based on psychological considerations that getting rid of morality1.

talk. (He thinks that the influence of “morality” is so pernicious that the question of what to put in its place is one that we can comfortably put aside.) Moral1 discourse, even if error-ridden, performs an important function in our society. I suggest, contra Hinckfuss, that the revisionist does need to offer either (a) some sort of replacement for moral1 discourse or (b) some explanation of how we can do without one. I will attempt to provide a little of each. Some aspects of moral1 discourse we can replace; others we can do without. To be fair, Hinckfuss does go some of the way toward providing a replacement discourse, specifically with respect to conflict resolution. However, his program for resolving conflicts (a) does not (and is not intended to) offer guidance to those who would discuss moral2 matters in the absence of conflict and (b) offers no guidance for discussion in cases of conflict once it’s been determined that the conflict in question is not simply a by-product of factual error or conceptual misunderstanding, which, I maintain, is typically case. One of my aims is to suggest ways in which members of an amoral1 society might discuss matters of morality2 in general (i.e. not just in cases of conflict) and how they might deal with conflicts that arise from underlying conflicts of value. Hinckfuss argues that morality1 exacerbates conflict, a point that I take to be extremely important. Hinckfuss cites one sociologist’s work (Trainer, 1982) in support of this point. One of my primary aims in this essay is to expand on Hinckfuss’ work by drawing further empirical support for this claim. With Garner, as with J. P. Burgess, I have no substantial disagreements. As with J. P. Burgess and Hinckfuss, I take issue with Garner’s choice of words.


Garner calls his view “compassionate amoralism.” In terms of PR this is much better than “nihilism” and “anethicism,” but “amoralism” nevertheless invites misinterpretation, even if “compassionate” undoes most of the damage.31 Similar remarks apply to the title of his book Beyond Morality.32 All the same, it’s clear enough that Garner embraces morality2 in his rejection of morality1.
31 32

George W. Bush may have since ruined the term “compassionate.” I claim that Burgess, Hinckfuss, and Garner misrepresent the view we share

though similar poor choices of words. That’s three against one, and I would be a bit myopic were I not to consider the possibility that it is I whose words misrepresent the position we share. Nevertheless, I stick to my guns. First, it’s not really three against one. These three do not present a united linguistic front, and there are others who speak as I do, mostly realists. Burgess (pg. 17), for example, also identifies nihilism with radical nihilism. Moral realists such as Michael Smith reject “nihilism” out of hand and without justification. This makes sense if one takes “nihilism” to entail a rejection of morality2 as well as morality1. But if “nihilism” means what Smith, Burgess, and I say it means, why would a friend of morality2 such as Hinckfuss call himself a “nihilist?” Likewise, why does Burgess say that he’s “against ethics,” and why does Garner favor “amoralism?” I think the answer has to do with lack of terminological alternatives. In general, when one needs to draw a distinction, one’s first inclination is to use existing words in order to make it, even if meanings must be stretched a bit. It seems to me, however, that, due to the pervasiveness of moral realism, there are no good words in English for distinguishing between morality1 and morality2, and hence no


As noted above, I will attempt to support my claim that the world would be better off without morality1 by appeal to empirical considerations, primarily from psychology. In Chapter 4 I will introduce my revisionist proposal for how to think and talk about moral2 issues and argue on pragmatic grounds against the views of conservative anti-realists. In Chapter 5 I will address some of the practical challenges facing revisionism as a program of social reform and defend utilitarianism, not as a normative theory of ethics, but as a guideline for practical judgment in the public domain. The defense of revisionism offered in this essay depends on the highly controversial assumption that anti-realism is true. Alas, I’ve no knock-down argument against moral realism, but I think it important nonetheless that the reader be exposed to the sorts of considerations that have led myself and others to reject it. To that end, I make my case for anti-realism in the next chapter. In Chapter 3 I will complement Chapter 2 by developing a projectivist account of moral psychology and with it an explanation for why moral realism is so appealing in spite of the fact that it’s false.

good words for describing a view that embraces morality2 while rejecting morality1. In the name of clarity, I opt for the clunky, artificial subscripts, but I can see why one would be inclined to do otherwise.


Chapter 2 Against Moral Realism

In “The Many Moral Realisms” Geoffrey Sayre-McCord (1988) writes that “the plausibility of anti-realism… depends largely on preserving our normal ways of speaking even while challenging the natural (though perhaps naïve) realistic interpretation of what is being said.” I couldn’t disagree more. To my mind, the plausibility of moral anti-realism lies in the implausibility of moral realism, and our normal ways of speaking be damned if they no longer make sense after moral realism has been rejected. In this chapter I will explain why I find moral realism so implausible. I should emphasize that what follows is not a thorough defense of anti-realism. Rather, my aim is to advance, in broad outline, what I take to be the most compelling reasons for rejecting moral realism and thus to help the reader understand what would lead a reasonable person to reach the conclusions I’ve reached, conclusions which are very much at odds with common sense.


2.1 Some Preliminaries

2.1.1 Two Sources of Moral Skepticism

Let us call the rejection of moral realism “moral skepticism.”1 Moral skepticism has at least two distinct sources, and if we are to take moral skepticism seriously we must distinguish between them. Some people are moral skeptics because they are dissatisfied with conventional moral life: “Who are they to tell me how to live? What makes them so sure that their values are anything more than their values?” Such a skeptic comes to doubt that there are moral truths because he is dissatisfied with what those around him take the moral truths to be. He intuits that society’s values are not correct and then, rather than claiming that his are correct as some would-be moral reformers have done, he adopts the “post-modern” position that no one’s are. Here moral skepticism is a meta-ethical reaction to an ethical problem, a clash of values recast in metaphysical terms. Its motivations are fundamentally political. This is the moral skeptic of popular lore, the iconoclast. This is the moral skeptic whom you want to have at your dinner party, but whom you don’t want raising your children. The other source of moral skepticism, the source of my own, is not so colorful. It arises not out of hostility or indifference toward the values of others,

Note that some people who are moral skeptics according to this definition would

be reluctant to call themselves “moral skeptics,” e.g. Blackburn (1984, 1993a).


but out of an appreciation of the following difficult metaphysical problem. Most of us believe that certain moral claims such as (or similar to) “Lying is wrong,” are true. The following question arises: What makes such claims true? Are they made true by the nature of the physical world? By facts about human

psychology? By facts about what we would desire or believe if we were smarter, more rational, more imaginative, or better informed? By the meanings of the words used to express such claims? By some combination of these things? Or is there nothing to say at all about what makes such claims true beyond the fact that they just are? I’ve concluded that this metaphysical problem has no solution because claims like “Lying is wrong,” are never true. This makes me a moral skeptic, and I will defend this position in this chapter. The point for now, however, concerns my motivation in defending it. Whether or not the arguments I offer are ultimately convincing, I insist that one can doubt the truth of moral realism in the absence of any anti-social tendency, political agenda, or adolescent lack of seriousness. As noted in the last chapter, many philosophers meet moral anti-realism with hostility and an unwillingness to take it seriously. I believe this is because they mistakenly assume that anti-realism is inevitably allied with motivations and values they find unacceptable. The hostility and facile dismissiveness generated by this assumption can only undermine a clear-headed discussion of these issues, and I therefore request that readers to whom such attitudes come naturally do their best to put them aside insofar as this is possible.


2.1.2 Metaphysical v. Epistemological Skepticism

There is a long tradition of skepticism and anti-skepticism in philosophy. The skeptics typically win the battle, forcing their opponents to admit that, strictly speaking, they don’t know what they ordinarily claim to know. The anti-skeptics typically win the war, forcing their opponents to admit that even they cannot take their own skepticism seriously. In light of this history, one might wonder if a defense of moral skepticism is not a lost cause. I believe that it’s not. Some kinds of skepticism are more reasonable than others, and we can distinguish among them. More specifically, I suggest that we draw a distinction between metaphysical and epistemological skepticism. Here’s a typical skeptical fantasy. Most of us believe that there is a large landmass at the south pole called “Antarctica,” a very cold place inhabited by penguins. A certain sort of skeptic might tell you that there is, in fact, no such place as Antarctica—just a grand conspiracy among historians, cartographers, politicians and travel agents bent on ensuring the rest of humanity’s ignorance of this surprising fact. This skeptic claims that you cannot rule out the possibility that Antarctica is fictitious and that as a result you can’t know that it exists. As an anti-skeptic you might respond as follows: “Fair enough. According to the strictest standards of knowledge I don’t know that Antarctica exists, but so what? You’ve given me no reason to take seriously your suggestion that it doesn’t, and neither of us could take this suggestion seriously if we wanted to.”


” and then downplay the importance of “knowledge” in this sense. strictly interpreted. “If your belief is true. “How do you know that your belief in Antarctica is true?” the metaphysical skeptic asks a different question: “How can it b e that your belief in Antarctica is true?” Put another way. in what does the truth of your belief consist?”2 On the one hand. Unlike the epistemological skeptic’s demand. Either way. merely wants to understand what makes it the case that your belief is true if in fact it is. The anti-skeptic can either admit that. the epistemological skeptic’s point is trivialized. “But how do you know?” is easily answered. this one is very easy to meet. so easy to meet that one is liable to misunderstand what is being asked. a demand that. the metaphysical skeptic asks. on the other hand.The epistemological skeptic’s nagging question. or at least put in its proper place. strictly speaking. While the epistemological skeptic asks. One example is the skepticism concerning meaning advanced by Saul Kripke in Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language (1982). the epistemological skeptic demands an explanation of how you know your belief is true. she has no “knowledge. 58 . or she can simply adopt a more relaxed standard for what counts as “knowledge” and thus stand behind her ordinary epistemic claims. The metaphysical skeptic. is not so reasonable. What would make your belief in Antarctica true is the instantiation of some physical state of affairs which includes the existence of a large landmass at the 2 Instances of metaphysical skepticism are relatively rare.

59 . the answer to the metaphysical skeptic’s question does (or may) amount to the presentation of a truthmaker in Armstrong’s sense. While. “How could it be that 3 By casting the metaphysical skeptic’s question as “What makes your belief true?” or “What makes it the case that your belief is true?” I do not mean to suggest that the metaphysical skeptic is necessarily inquiring after “truthmakers” in the narrow sense employed by Armstrong (1998). if actual. I do insist.south pole. the metaphysical skeptic’s demand arises out of a perfectly reasonable expectation that one who believes something should be able to explain what it is that makes that belief true. The question with which we are concerned is not “How can you know for sure that your moral beliefs are true?” but rather. Nevertheless. at least insofar as such claims are not self-evidently true. would render your beliefs false. that in the case of true moral claims there must be some informative story to tell about what makes them true. As it happens. The moral skepticism advanced in this chapter is a form of metaphysical skepticism. I want to leave open the possibility that moral claims can be true without having Armstrongian truthmakers. but it’s not at all difficult to say what makes it true if it’s true.3 Maybe you can know that this belief of yours is true and maybe you can’t. I do not mean to presuppose that all true claims are made true in each case by the existence of some physical object or state of affairs. in the particular case of metaphysical Antarctic skepticism. however. the epistemological skeptic’s enterprise amounts to an unreasonable demand that you rule out certain bizarre possibilities which.

2. My worry is about the very being of moral truths under ordinary circumstances. what could make one of them correct and the other incorrect?” It’s true that the moral skepticism I defend calls into question a wide range of common sense beliefs. epistemological skepticism. but there is always some common ground.” If we have moral beliefs we should be able to give some sort of account of what makes them true. if actual. Rather. Whether or not these doubts about moral realism are well-founded. render our ordinary moral beliefs false. we question particular moral claims against a background of shared moral beliefs and/or values. I’m not in the business of concocting bizarre but in-principle-possible scenarios that would.1.4 Ordinary moral discourse is 4 Moral discourse tends to highlight our points of disagreement and minimize the appearance of common ground.3 Moral Intuitions and Moral Skepticism In ordinary. first order moral discourse we do not call into question all moral claims at once. 60 . Whether or not this can be done is an open question.anyone’s moral beliefs are true? What could make a moral claim true? In what does a moral claim’s truth consist? If two people have a moral disagreement. they shouldn’t be dismissed as “mere skepticism. but it does so by a very different means from typical. and sometimes quite a bit. Unlike the epistemological skeptic.

To take moral skepticism seriously we must put our first order moral intuitions aside. This brings us back to issues raised in the two previous sections. To conclude that there are moral truths on the grounds that there are a number of moral claims that appear to be true is to beg the question. I noted above that moral skepticism of the kind that arises out of a difference of values is really first order discourse recast as second order 61 . the idea that at all moral claims are “guilty. enough to establish that it is true. but rather in that they are simply not true. those engaged in ordinary moral discourse have no reason to question the truth of uncontroversial moral claims. If (near) universal intuitive appeal is enough to make a moral claim true then we already know that there are at least some true moral claims and that moral skepticism is false.” If we assume at the outset that our first order moral intuitions are our only guides to moral truth. all moral claims are innocent until intuited guilty.” not in the sense that they reflect undesirable values.straightforwardly practical. As a result. then moral skepticism is a non-starter. We know that there are moral claims that reflect the values of all but a handful of deranged individuals. for the purposes of ordinary moral discourse. Some moral claims have nearly universal intuitive appeal. Some may say that a question-begging response is a perfectly adequate response to moral skepticism. aimed at guiding action in the here-and-now. Moral skepticism is. for example: “It’s wrong to kill people for fun. The fact that a moral claim seems true to all concerned is. at least insofar as they involve a commitment to realism. roughly. Outside of philosophy.

one might wonder why intuitions are not enough. depending on the context. Recall that the metaphysical skeptic asks not “How do you know that your belief is true?” but rather “What makes your belief true?” Intuitions can provide an adequate response to the first question. with their first order intuitions. If the epistemological skeptic persists—”But how do you know Holmes isn’t lying? How do you know that man 62 . Still.discourse. then there is nothing wrong with simply reaffirming one’s own values and intuitions in response. the standards of first order discourse may still apply. Since this skeptic’s issue is a first order issue. The “political” skeptic’s primary complaint is with other people’s values. Mr. After all. The skeptic says “Why?” and we reply “Why not?” If the skeptic’s position is nothing more than an expression of his values. and his having concluded that such and such is the case is. But the skepticism we are considering is not first order moralizing in disguise. evidence enough that it is. irrespective of their intuitive appeal or lack thereof. (b) because we recognize implicitly that metaphysical moral skepticism raises a legitimate question. Our doubts apply equally to all moral claims. and (c) because this question cannot be answered by appeal to moral intuition. Consider the following analogy. but not the second. under ordinary circumstances. Suppose you believe that Professor Moriarty is guilty as charged.” This response may be perfectly adequate. Holmes is a celebrated sleuth. They’re not enough because (a) our concern is with metaphysical moral skepticism. of his intuitions. The epistemological skeptic asks. “How do you know this?” You might respond “Because Sherlock Holmes said so.

because I feel that it’s wrong. This is a possibility we will consider later. 5 Perhaps our moral intuitions idealized in some way could determine what makes things right or wrong. Sherlock Holmes’ included. Perhaps you think of your moral sense as something like your own personal Sherlock Holmes. a remarkable device that allows you to sniff out moral truths. 63 . But now consider the metaphysical skeptic’s question: “What makes it true that Moriarty is guilty?” To respond by saying “Because Sherlock Holmes said so. The fact that Sherlock Holmes said he’s guilty may serve as good prima facie evidence for the claim that he’s guilty. hard facts concerning what took place at the scene of the crime. Whether or not you possess such a device. you must acknowledge that your having the moral intuitions that you have does not make your moral beliefs true any more than Holmes’ concluding that Moriarty is guilty makes him guilty. but my feeling that it’s wrong is certainly not what makes it wrong if it is. but it doesn’t make it true that he’s guilty. This is what I mean by our implicit recognition that the metaphysical skeptic raises a legitimate question and that this question cannot be answered by appeal to moral intuition. What makes it true that he’s guilty is that he did the deed. and no one’s opinion about the matter. for example. but we are not so egocentric as to believe that our intuitions about what’s right and wrong determine what’s right and wrong. is a substitute for the cold.” is no good.is really Holmes? How do you know he’s not a computer generated phantom?”—his skepticism descends into triviality. We rely on our moral intuitions to guide our deliberations.5 I might oppose capital punishment.

2. Some examples: 6 Here I have in mind “abundant” rather than “sparse” properties. or institutions.” 2. at best. I have no problem with using the term “property” slightly differently and saying that there simply is no property of moral 64 . actions. even if they have no mind to try to answer it.2 Moral Realism and the Need for Fundamental Moral Principles 2. However. There must be some story to tell about what makes moral claims true. but they do believe (if only implicitly) that something must make them true.1 The Structure of Moral Principles Typical moral claims predicate some moral property6 of some set of persons. for example. which is to say that properties in this sense are not restricted to those that may serve as part of a minimal basis on which all else supervenes. Another issue concerning properties is whether or not they are more than abstractions from predicates.Most people do not worry about what makes their moral beliefs true. In what follows I will speak. Once again. of the property of moral wrongness and argue that nothing has this property. and to tell this story we must put our moral intuitions aside since our intuitions are. I intend to remain neutral on this issue. people implicitly recognize that the metaphysical moral skeptic raises a legitimate question. guides to moral truth and not moral “truthmakers.

then X has the property of being wrong. (Note that here and elsewhere “wrong” is short for “morally wrong. only what amounts to a stylistic preference.1. 2. wrongness. 4. and if no such claims are true. 3. but at present I have no settled opinion on the matter. Perhaps there are good reasons to favor one way of speaking over the other. We can understand each of these claims as stating a logical relation between two properties. and we can rewrite each of them in a way that makes this plain. 1. Fred is immoral. 5. moral realism is all but empty. but many are. “Lying is the moral equivalent of stealing”). If X has the property of being an act of lying. then X has the property of being immoral. 65 . Lying is wrong. Slavery is immoral.g. Killing your paternal uncle with a lead pipe in the conservatory on a Tuesday afternoon in order to more quickly receive the money he has left you in his will is wrong.”) Not all moral claims are of this form (e. If X has the property of being an instance of slavery. 2. Abortion is morally permissible.

Non-natural properties are very much out of fashion these days.3.” are non-natural properties. then X has the property of being wrong.” Moore believes that most properties are natural properties. but that moral properties. Some property ascriptions automatically commit one to value judgments.” which are opposed to “nonnatural properties. If X has the property of being Fred. In Moorean terms. Nevertheless. perceivable only through a kind of intellectual moral sense. Moore (1959) calls “natural properties. moral property. 4. a welcome development to my mind. E. chief among them the property of being “good. the everyday sorts of properties that are perceivable through the senses and/or investigated by science. 5. If. it does seem that Moore was on to something with his distinction between natural properties and non-natural properties (where the latter include what we would recognize as moral properties). each of the claims above describes a logical relation between a natural property and a non-natural. The properties named in the antecedents of each of these claims are examples of what G. If X has the property of being an act of abortion then X has the property of being morally permissible. we say that Katie’s action has the property of being 66 . for example. If X has the property of being an act of killing one’s paternal uncle with a lead pipe in the conservatory on a Tuesday afternoon in order to more quickly receive the money he has left one in his will. then X has the property of being immoral.

8 By “logically” I have in mind what is sometimes called “broad logical implication. passed judgment on Katie or her action. Indeed. For example. it seems that we can ascribe some properties to persons. for example) and that some properties are value-neutral. The point is rather that no evaluative conclusion follows logically8 from something’s having this property. strictly speaking. the fact that Joe is unmarried follows by broad logical implication from 67 .” which allows for the use of additional analytic premises. Even if we say that Katie lied. if we hear that someone’s action has this property our suspicions are rightly raised. we haven’t yet passed judgment on what Katie did. If we say that Katie’s action has the property of being an act of knowingly making an untrue statement with the intention of creating a false belief in another.wrong. That is not to say that the latter property is morally irrelevant. the property of being an act of knowingly making an untrue statement with the intention of creating a false belief in another. it seems that some properties are clearly evaluative (the property of wrongness.7 At the same time. bad. Two people who disagree entirely about the merits of Katie’s behavior can agree that her action has this property. unjust etc. etc. we haven’t. 7 This follows trivially from the fact that to call something “wrong” in the relevant sense is to make a moral evaluation. for example. then we’ve committed ourselves to an evaluative claim concerning what she did. an “open question. Whether or not it was at all wrong. for her to lie in that situation remains. actions.” Thus. as Moore would say. without making any kind of value judgment at all.

instead of thinking of the moral claims above as stating logical relations between natural and non-natural. Likewise. 68 . Because the property of being a lie is value-neutral (in our sense). and one might claim that ownership is a normative concept because to own something is to have certain rights with respect to it. Because the property of being Fred is a value-neutral property. insofar as the term’s meaning has not changed—”slavery” is a value-neutral term. we can think of them as stating relations between value-neutral and evaluative properties. two people who disagree entirely about the merits of Katie’s behavior can still agree that she lied. Slavery might be defined as ownership of one person by another.” 9 One might think that the term “slavery” cannot be value-neutral for a different reason than the one suggested here. the distinction between evaluative and value-neutral properties can serve as a surrogate for Moore’s distinction between natural and non-natural properties. Fred’s) moral worth can still agree on who counts as Fred. two people who disagree entirely about that guy’s (i. even though this inference makes use of the premise “all bachelors are unmarried. Thus.e. without the metaphysical baggage that comes with committing ourselves to the existence of non-natural properties.whereas evaluative conclusions do follow logically from the fact that some action or person is wrong. the defenders of slavery were able to agree with their abolitionist opponents about what counted as slavery. For our purposes. moral properties.9 which is to the fact that Joe is a bachelor. To them—and to us. bad.

One can claim that slavery is not wrong without contradicting oneself. Bear in mind. Mounting a defense of slavery is not a logical mistake.say that their evaluative disagreement was not a disagreement about what was or was not an instance of slavery. Some might say. that you can’t call something a “lie” or an instance of “slavery” without passing judgment on it. that we are not saying that the presence or absence of these properties is of no evaluative import. once again. The line between evaluative and value-neutral properties may not always be clear. even overwhelming.” may disagree. Some further examples: One might argue that by calling an This particular problem can be avoided by defining slavery in terms of possession rather than ownership. the terms “wrong” and “immoral” are evaluative. while I agree that these terms have strong. especially those who subscribe to the dictum “meaning is use. moral overtones. Rather. Again. Let us reconsider the property of being a lie and the property of being an instance of slavery. But others.” and the rest. I maintain that there is no evaluative component to these words’ meanings. 69 . (It may seem strange to say that “lying” and “slavery” pick out value-neutral properties. contrary to what I asserted above. Two people cannot disagree about which things have the property of being “wrong” or “immoral” without having some sort of evaluative disagreement. the point is that it doesn’t follow logically from the fact that something is a lie or an instance of slavery that it is wrong.) In contrast to “lying. that it is not a logical contradiction to say that it was right to tell a certain lie or that there could be an instance of slavery that is not wrong.” “slavery.

and any kind of moral realism worthy of its name requires that there be at least some true moral principles in the sense we those that are 70 . alternatively. Each of the numbered claims above can. a claim about how things ought to be.act “courageous” we have committed ourselves to some sort of evaluative conclusion. We’ll say that the value-neutral properties are. If “lying” and “slavery” are not. uncontroversially value-neutral in the relevant context. we might be making an evaluative claim. but. Once again.” thus making the claims above fit the paradigm. we can live with these ambiguities by adopting a conservative policy. if necessary. that we would contradict ourselves by saying of some act that it was both courageous and worthy of no praise whatsoever. we might be making a value-neutral claim about the content of the relevant civil laws. then it has such and such moral property. When we say that someone has a “right” to free speech. be recast as a statement connecting a value-neutral property to an evaluative property. actions. We’re raising doubts about moral realism. then we can substitute “making untrue statements with the intention of creating false beliefs in others” for “lying” and “the possession of one person by another” for “slavery. As noted above. in the sense we have defined.” moral principles. and institutions. but this is a harmless simplification for our purposes. the moral claims listed above ascribe evaluative properties to persons. For our purposes. for our purposes. Let’s call claims of the form “If X has such and such value-neutral property. value-neutral terms. there are claims which would rightly be called “moral principles” that are not of this form.

that’s all. Our skeptical question. “What makes him a skilled singer?” Now suppose I say. according to moral realism. the property of being wrong).” you might say.2. Because moral realism requires the existence of true moral principles. we can raise doubts about moral realism by raising doubts about moral principles. Giulio 71 . 2. the property of being an act of abortion) and the evaluative properties that. no. is this: What could make moral principles true? Put another way: What establishes the connections between the value-neutral properties that define the objects of moral interest (e. no. Is it his ability to project his voice? His ability to accurately hit a wide range of notes? What?” And then I respond.g. “Oh. “But surely.” This is nonsense. In what follows we will consider the relationship between value-neutral and evaluative properties and the various means by which they might be connected.just defined. for example. “there must be something about the way he sings that makes him one among the skilled singers. Nothing like that.g. inhere in those objects (e. You might then ask. slightly refined. that I tell you that Giulio is a skilled singer. He’s just a skilled singer.2 The Supervenience of Value and the Necessity of Moral Principles Suppose. He’s just a skilled singer. “Nothing. At least some claims like “Abortion is wrong” or “Abortion is morally permissible” or “Killing people for fun is wrong” must be true if moral realism is going to be true.” You’d be puzzled. no doubt.

we say that the B-properties supervene on the A-properties if and only if it is impossible for two objects. If some action is wrong. We can say that the screen is red at point 234-317 and green at point… 72 . A more precise way to capture this idea is in terms of supervenience. It has to be wrong for some reason. to accurately hit a wide range of notes. or a sunny day. We can describe (say true things about) the state of a computer screen at different levels. (The B-properties are the “supervening properties” and the A-properties are the “subvening properties. not necessarily in the same world.can’t be a skilled singer without there being some further story to tell about the features of him and his singing that make them skilled. we can describe it at a lower level by talking about its pixels. The same goes for moral properties. or perhaps something else entirely. Perhaps it’s an action that fails to maximize utility. At a high level of description. because that action has certain properties that make it wrong. but one way or another there must be some story to tell about the properties of that action in virtue of which it has the further property of being wrong. or an action based on a maxim that cannot be universalized. to differ in their B-properties without also differing in their A-properties. Given two classes of properties (A and B). etc.”) A computer screen makes for a nice illustration of the supervenience relationship. properties concerning his ability to project his voice. Alternatively. it can’t just be wrong. we can say of a given computer screen that it depicts a dog. Giulio has the property of being a skilled singer in virtue of having some combination of more basic properties.

The image-level properties supervene on the pixel properties.e. the higher-level moral properties of actions. probably will. if we go low enough. which requires that no difference in B-properties is possible without a difference in A-properties. then the other must depict a dog as well. persons. one screen might have a higher resolution than the other. but not the other way around. Likewise.10 An easy way to think of the supervenience relation is in terms of “fixing. 73 . This becomes clear 10 Note that the supervenience relationship is (almost always) asymmetric. image properties of a computer screen are fixed by its lower-level pixel properties. In other words. (Why “almost?” A consequence of the definition of supervenience used here is that a set of properties will (trivially) supervene on itself and therefore exhibit a symmetric supervenience relationship.” The pixel properties of a computer screen “fix” its image properties. you could have two screens that are identical as far as what they are depicting at the level of images (i. Just as the higher-level. at the level of dogs and sunny days) but different in their pixels. if two computer screens are identical pixel for pixel and one of them depicts a dog. And for the same reason.) You could change a few pixels on a screen showing a dog and it might. moral properties supervene on lower-level properties. institutions etc. continue to show a dog. If the screen depicts a dog. But note that these lowerlevel properties. Setting the pixels sets the image. How so? Recall our definition of supervenience. are fixed by their lower-level properties. it won’t cease to depict a dog without some of its pixels’ changing. For example. are value-neutral.

physical properties. we should consider an assumption we’ve made along the way. Imagine that we have a complete low-level. Thus. supervene on value-neutral properties. if we get enough of them together. Prima facie. this assumption may appear unassailable. we can restrict our notion of supervenience to nomological supervenience. moral properties. etc. When we say that some object consists of such and such molecules arranged in such and such way. we hardly seem to have committed ourselves to any sort of value judgment about that object or anything else. physical way. that differ in their moral properties are going to have to be different in some low-level. that are matched atom for atom. perhaps.11 Likewise. Before we consider the implications of this conclusion. are going to be morally identical as well. In suggesting this I am assuming that mental properties supervene nomologically on physical properties.when we consider the fact that moral properties supervene on low-level. persons. two actions. Such differences may be subtle and may be relational. but they have to be there. while low-level property ascriptions taken in isolation or in small clusters are undeniably value-neutral. We’ve assumed that low-level physical properties are value-neutral. It might be possible to logically 11 Should it turn out that some morally relevant mental properties fail to supervene on physical properties. Nevertheless. and evaluative properties more generally. 74 . How? Bear in mind our stipulation that a property is evaluative if by ascribing it to something we logically commit ourselves to some evaluative claim. they will become evaluative. Two worlds that are identical in their low-level physical properties. physical description of our universe.

Some of these moral principles are going to have to be true necessarily.) What does this tell us? In the previous section we concluded that moral realism depends on the existence of moral principles. at the most basic level. That said.5. will be true necessarily. For now we’ll simply ignore this potential wrinkle and say that all low-level physical properties are value-neutral and that therefore all moral properties supervene on value-neutral properties. such principles. it’s still the case that moral properties supervene on low-level physical properties.4. This supervenience relationship has another important implication. Nevertheless. (We’ll return to this issue in Section 2. value-neutral properties that thing has. by its low-level physical properties. The supervenience of the moral on the value-neutral explains why this is so. For all we’ve said so far it’s possible that some or all of these principles will be infinitely complex. however unfathomable. See previous footnote. and maybe—we don’t want to rule it out at this point—we could even reach some evaluative conclusions by such means. even if we can’t be absolutely sure that some exceedingly complex low-level physical properties are not in fact evaluative properties according to our definition. and. the on-screen images must be 12 13 At the very least this determination is nomological.13 This necessity falls out of the nature of moral supervenience. claims that connect valueneutral properties to moral properties.deduce from this description all sorts of high level facts about our world. 75 . Once you’ve set the pixels on a computer screen. What moral properties a thing has is determined by12 the more basic.

and that means that there must be some more complicated principle of the form “Lying is wrong except in such and such cases. say.whatever they are going to be. however. that action must have the property of being wrong. Perhaps when it comes to lying. Of course. Presumably there are some instances in which it’s not wrong to lie. the moral properties must be whatever they will be. For example. is that moral realism requires that some moral claims be determinately true. if it’s true that lying is wrong.” 76 . Assuming moral realism is true. The point for now. Likewise. there will be cases in which it is indeterminate whether or not lying is wrong. “Lying is wrong” may not be such a plausible principle. this principle will be true necessarily. But this point about the necessity of moral principles remains even if overly simple principles such as “Lying is wrong” are never true. torturing people for fun—then it would be a bit much to call the correct meta-ethical view “moral realism. value-neutral properties means that once those lowerlevel properties are in place. then if an action has the property of being a lie.14 Regardless of what those details turn out to be. the fact that moral properties supervene on lower-level. If nothing is determinately wrong—not even. If something has the value-neutral property of being a lie and does not have the value-neutral properties that would make it an exception to the rule “Lying is wrong” then it must have the property of being wrong. for example. 14 Moral realism might allow for certain moral indeterminacies. value-neutral properties at whatever level of detail is necessary to get things right. there has to be some fact of the matter about when lying is or is not wrong.” where the “such and such cases” are spelled out in terms of lowerlevel.

Furthermore.” which. it seems that it’s the necessarily true ones that do all the work.We defined moral principles as those claims that link value-neutral properties to moral properties. a moral principle because it links the value-neutral property of being Fred to a moral property.) Of the claims that link value-neutral to evaluative properties. in this case the ones that Fred happens to have. then “Fred” is not a value-neutral term and as a result “Fred is immoral” is not a moral principle. (One can’t have the kinds of value-neutral properties that make one immoral without being immoral. unjust. value-neutral properties. just. is necessarily true. to the property of being immoral (or virtuous. then one is immoral.). claims like “Fred is immoral” couldn’t be true unless there were some necessarily true moral principles linking the lower-level. 15 If it follows logically from the fact that something is Fred that that thing is immoral. “Fred is immoral. If we keep this definition. The relevant moral principle seems to be “If one does such and such things. according to our definition.” is. etc. not all moral principles will be necessarily true. whatever it turns out to be. combined with the contingent fact that Fred did those things. And this principle. 77 . even if it’s true. however. The other ones like “Fred is immoral” are really just consequences of the necessarily true ones and some contingent facts. yields the claim above. But unless it is essential to Fred’s being that he is immoral—and I think we should give him the benefit of the doubt—then this claim about him is not true necessarily. The thought here. is that Fred’s immorality might be an a posteriori necessity.15 But “Fred is immoral” isn’t the sort of thing we have in mind when we think of moral principles anyway.

Call this set of principles the true moral theory. Moral realism requires such principles. But this can’t be the sort of answer we’re looking for here. Our skeptical question.2. have those properties. “Giulio is a skilled singer” states a contingent fact. we are speaking of those necessarily true claims that link low-level. unjust. one that is analogous to “Fred is 78 . value-neutral properties on which they supervene. when one asks what makes Giulio a skilled singer we can launch into a more detailed discussion of his abilities.Therefore. We might read such questions as asking for a lower-level description of some contingently existing state of affairs. value-neutral properties to moral properties. recast once again: What makes this theory true? A question of the form “What makes X true?” may be understood and answered in a number of different ways. etc. Without them there can be no story to tell about the why the various things that are right. 2. immoral.3 Fundamental Moral Principles So far we’ve determined that if moral realism is true there must be some set of true moral principles. One type of answer we’ve covered already. wrong. just. For example. where these moral principles are necessarily true claims that connect the moral properties to the lower-level. from now on when we speak of moral principles.

“If X is wrong then X is not right”) and other necessarily true moral claims that are not of the form.) Moral principles. If we aren’t going to explain what makes moral principles true by appeal to contingent truths. but for our purposes it won’t hurt to throw them in with the moral properties. that leaves only necessary truths. Necessary moral truths that are not moral principles in our sense include moral tautologies (e.” But this can’t be the sort of answer we’re looking for either since causal explanations are just a species of explanations that appeal to contingent facts.g.immoral. are a subset of the necessary moral truths. One might answer a “What makes X true?” question by giving a causal explanation: “What makes the Sun shine?” (More awkwardly: “What makes it true that the Sun shines?”) Answer: “Nuclear Fusion of hydrogen into helium in the Sun’s core. 79 . e.g.”16 but the moral principles with which we are concerned are supposed to be necessarily true. “If X has such and such value-neutral 16 Here I am assuming once again that Fred is not necessarily immoral. Let’s begin by dividing the necessary truths into moral truths and non-moral truths. it should be clear that if lying is wrong. We’ll say that moral truths are any truths that make claims about evaluative properties. as we’ve defined them. A contingent fact can’t explain what makes a necessarily true claim true since the necessarily true claim would have been true even if the contingent fact failed to obtain. Besides. lying didn’t get to be wrong as the result of some physical process. aesthetic properties. (There may be evaluative properties that are non-moral.

Its inadequacy is a special case of a broader problem concerning the “autonomy of 80 . that we’re not going to understand what makes moral principles true by appeal to non-moral necessary truths. Perhaps there are other categories that belong on this list. There are truths such as “All bachelors are men. when expressed in English. typically thought of as synthetic and a priori.17 17 This simple formulation suggests the right idea.” thought by many to be synthetic and (necessary) a posteriori. principles of mereology.properties. and there are truths such as “Water is H2O. Other candidates include laws of nature. I have no argument for this. then X has such and such moral properties” (e.” or that “Two plus two equals four. and whatever nonmoral necessary truths can’t be known at all.”) Non-moral necessary truths are more of a mixed bag. I can only leave it as a challenge to those who disagree to explain how this might be. but these are the standard ones.” typically thought of as analytic and true by dint of meaning. Could an appeal to non-moral necessary truths explain what makes a moral principle true? Could we explain what makes “Lying is wrong” (or some other moral principle) true by appeal to the fact that “All bachelors are men.g. principles of modal metaphysics.” or that “Water is H2O” or by appeal to some other non-moral necessary truth? I highly doubt that non-moral facts of any kind. i. by appeal to necessary truths that. “Lying is the moral equivalent of stealing. are going to explain what makes moral principles true. For now I’ll assume that this is right.e. but is not strictly adequate. necessary or contingent. make no reference to moral properties. There are mathematical truths.

Thus. Let m be the moral principle that lying is wrong. 1970. Suppose that ~p. by disjoining a moral claim with a claim that is necessarily false we make a bold moral statement. they are very different in terms of how much they tell us about the nature of moral reality. which is not a moral principle. and Jackson. Let q be the claim that two plus two equals four. We can derive d2 be from q. By disjoining a moral claim with a claim that is necessarily true. Either way we have derived a necessarily true moral principle from one or more non-moral necessary truths. 1974) which may be illustrated as follows: Let p be the claim that two plus two equals five. In contrast. q. From d1 and ~p (which is also not a moral principle). we can derive m. much as your team’s answers do reflect your knowledge when you’ve been paired with a complete ignoramus. Let d2 be the disjunction of m and q. 1960. Your team’s answers tell us nothing about your knowledge because your partner can carry you all the way if necessary. While these claims have a common logical structure (moral claim disjoined with non-moral claim). I suggest that we reject the assumption that d1 is a moral principle if and only if d2 is. It seems clear that d1 is a moral principle if and only if d2 is a moral principle. Suppose instead that d1 and d2 are moral principles. and m are all necessarily true. Kurtzman. in response to this particular objection we can say that moral claims disjoined with necessarily false non-moral claims count as moral claims and that 81 . Suppose that neither is a moral principle. Let d1 be the disjunction of m and p. we say nothing about the nature of moral reality. It’s rather like pairing you up with an omniscient Trivial Pursuit partner.ethics” (Prior.

no doubt.That leaves only moral necessary truths. Could a moral necessary truth explain what makes a moral principle true? Absolutely. but we can’t explain what makes all the moral principles true by appeal to any moral principles. that we moral skeptics are calling into question all putative moral principles at once. When presented with the aforementioned explanation for why it’s true that lying is wrong we are not going to be satisfied until we hear an explanation for what makes the above Kantian principle true. Remember that a moral principle is a claim that forges a moral claims disjoined with necessarily true non-moral claims do not. principles such as “Lying is morally equivalent to stealing. 82 . but I’m content to assume that variations on this response can meet them.” and “If X is wrong. Such an explanation would be circular.” More substantively. variations on this objection that are not handled by this response. What about moral necessary truths that are not moral principles as we’ve defined them.” If there are true moral principles. “Stealing is wrong”). There are. however. it should come as no surprise that some of them are explicable in terms of others. then X is not right?” I fail to see how one could explain what makes “Lying is wrong” or any other moral principle true by appeal to claims such a these without also appealing to moral principles in the sense we’ve defined (e. a Kantian might say that the fact that “Treating others as a means only (which is necessarily what happens when one lies) is wrong.g. The fact that “Lying is wrong” might very well explain the fact that “Lying on Tuesdays is wrong. We can explain what makes some moral principles true by appeal to other moral principles. Bear in mind.

Consider where this leaves us in terms of our goal of explaining what makes the true moral theory true. They must be brutely true. The fundamental moral principles have to have a very specific form. We are forced to conclude that if moral realism is true. Some moral principles can be explained by appeal to other moral principles. It’s worth emphasizing. too. some moral principles must be true in spite of the fact that there is no explanation for what makes them true. however. I can only issue a challenge to those who disagree. and they don’t look any more promising in combination. We can’t appeal to contingent truths at all because the truths we want to explain are necessary. It’s hard to see how moral claims like those above which do nothing to bring moral properties and value-neutral properties together can explain what makes the principles that do accomplish this true. that what we mean by “moral principles” is somewhat more narrow than what one might otherwise have in mind. Call these moral principles the fundamental moral principles. Here. That leaves us with non-moral necessary truths and necessary moral truths that are not. Neither of these look very promising. nor can we appeal at all to moral principles since to do so would be circular. That moral realism requires the existence of fundamental moral principles may come as no shock to its defenders.link between a moral property and the value-neutral features in virtue of which things have that property. in our sense. but that still leaves those other moral principles unexplained. They must reveal the nature of the supervenience of the moral on the value-neutral by telling us what value-neutral properties give rise to 83 . moral principles.

provided that we have enough contingent information. namely all acts of lying. For example. it says nothing about the moral properties connected to acts of stealing.what moral properties. principles that determine which value-neutral properties give rise to which moral properties and that cannot be explained in terms of other facts. though. but also fairly specific. moral principles can be more or less general. they can admit of no further explanation. allow one to draw moral conclusions about all actions.” This principle is fairly general. Take our favorite moral principle: “Lying is wrong. if they are not to be mysterious. It allows one to draw moral conclusions about a great many actions.3 The Nature of Fundamental Moral Principles 2. A 84 . The most general principles are ones that.3. First. and. In considering whether or not there could be such principles. Direct and Indirect Moral realism depends on the existence of fundamental moral principles. they must do so in such a way that we are not left asking “Why is that so?” Because the fundamental moral principles are fundamental.1 The Variety of Moral Principles: General and Specific. At the same time. 2. we will divide all possible moral principles into sub-groups and handle these sub-groups separately. there are many actions about which it says nothing at all.

i. A moral theory will be rather “theoretical” if it contains some very general moral principles.”. the aforementioned utilitarian principle is correct.” But even this principle is not maximally specific. any set of axioms can be conjoined to form a single axiom. a set of “moral axioms. will be determined in part by the level of generality that the most general true moral principles have. Instead of there being a single fundamental moral principle there might be several such principles. 85 . The shape of the moral landscape. principles from which one can derive a wide range of moral conclusions (given the relevant contingent information). all of the moral truths follow from one fundamental moral principle. for example. then the correct moral theory is maximally “theoretical.standard utilitarian principle is a good example: “An action is wrong if and only if it fails to maximize the overall sum of happiness.” Near the other extreme are very specific principles. If. the content of the true moral theory. More moderately “theoretical” moral theories are possible.e. If utilitarianism (or some other maximally theoretical theory) is correct we can compare the moral landscape to a mosaic the tiles of which are all placed according to a single simple formula. for example: “Killing your paternal uncle with a lead pipe in the conservatory on a Tuesday afternoon in order to more quickly receive the money he has left you in his will is wrong.”18 18 Together these axioms would form Of course. The assumption made above is that each axiom will be as logically simple as possible. as it allows one to draw moral conclusions about a number of possible actions.

e. on this view. To give such a mosaic a complete characterization one must describe it tile by tile. a set of consistent rules from which all the facts about how one must behave follow (once again.something like a moral legal system. they are still committed to the existence of a true moral theory in our sense.” Each such theory is composed of a set of highly specific moral principles such as the one above about killing one’s uncle. connect its value-neutral properties to its moral properties. what they reject is a true moral theory that has a “theoretical” character.19 19 Some philosophers may consider themselves realists but deny that there is a true “moral theory. when supplemented with the relevant contingent information). all the moral truths are particular. According to this view the moral landscape is analogous to a mosaic with tiles placed according to no general rules at all. 86 . We might call the view according to which all of the moral truths are maximally specific extreme particularism.” However. insofar as such philosophers accept the supervenience of moral properties on some set of lower-level properties. In our terms. If such a moral theory were correct then the moral landscape would be analogous to a mosaic with tiles placed according to some relatively small set of rules. one that has true general moral principles. i. They are also all fundamental in the sense that they are not derivable from more general moral principles. If extreme particularism is true then for every action there will be a set of fundamental moral principles that specifically determine its moral properties. Such views are forms of what one might call particularism since. At the other extreme are moral theories that are not at all “theoretical.

20 Moral principles. for example. 87 . “Lying is wrong” is a direct moral principle. or that there are almost never more than four red tiles in a row. E. that most of the tiles in the upper-right quadrant are black. at least in the short term. however. One could have a mosaic the nature of which is determined by no rigid set of rules. in addition to varying in their level of generality (contra specificity).Note. Moore’s (1959) view. but which nonetheless exhibits a number of interesting general patterns. I mention this possibility because. to many. but we can often make a pretty good guess. that complete characterizations are not the only kinds of characterizations of interest. We can never be sure of how some action will affect the overall sum of happiness. persons. By knowing them one gets a relatively clear idea of what particular sorts of things are right. wrong. The utilitarian principle mentioned above is somewhat less direct. even if there are no exceptionless principles of any generality that describe its design to the last tile. or… One might be able to make any number of useful generalizations about such a mosaic. All one needs to know in order to apply this principle to a particular case is whether or not the action in question is a lie. On the one hand. direct moral principles allow one to move relatively easily to moral conclusions about particular actions. this seems to be the right picture of the moral landscape. also vary in the extent to which they wear their content on their sleeves. It might be the case. and especially to philosophers who have tried their hand at principled casuistry. 20 I believe that this was G. but still rather direct.

so to speak. 88 . Consider the following indirect principle: “An action is wrong if and only if we would disapprove of it if we were fully rational and fully informed.2 Fundamental Moral Principles: General or Specific? Could there be fundamental moral principles that are specific? Here’s one that should be as good as any other: “Lying in order to get someone to give you her money so you can spend it on luxuries for yourself is wrong. at least when it comes to controversial matters.”21 This principle. I can’t imagine that too many moral realists would want to say that this principle (or some variation on it) is not true. about the features it shares with other wrong 21 This is a modified version of a principle put forth by Smith (1994).On the other hand. which tiles fall where. if not impossible. Could such a principle be true without there being some further explanation for why it’s true? Wouldn’t there have to be some story to tell about what the essential features of this action are that make it wrong. but whether it is plausible as a fundamental moral principle. 2. We will encounter it again in our discussion of analytic naturalism. tells us almost nothing about the actual content of the true moral theory.3.” This principle is very plausible in the sense that it fits in well with our moral intuitions. indirect moral principles are ones from which it is very difficult. to draw conclusions about particulars. like all indirect principles. But our question is not whether it is plausible per se.

there could be specific and indirect moral principles.22 This means that the fundamental moral principles will have to be general. In light of the above. if anything. though somewhat general. is still a viable candidate. though they may be direct or indirect.” for example. it seems that in the absence of some more general moral principles. are not extremely general.actions? Wouldn’t there have to be some more general principle at work that explains why this sort of thing is wrong? I have a hard time imagining how such a principle could be brutely true. whether direct or indirect. An example would be “Lying in order to get someone to give you her money so you can spend it on luxuries for yourself is wrong if and only if we would disapprove of it if we were fully informed and fully rational. Furthermore. The above principle is specific and direct. specific moral principles. This does leave room for the possibility of fundamental moral principles that.” Principles such as these strike me as no more likely—and. I take it that specific moral principles. less likely—to be fundamental moral principles than direct. Moreover. “Lying is wrong. how there could be no further explanation for why it’s true. Strictly speaking. can’t be fundamental moral principles. the only way that we could come to know such specific moral principles is through a Moorean extrasensory moral intuition. the fundamental moral principles will either be analytic 22 How specific is too specific? The fundamental moral principles have to be at least less specific than the specific principles described above. 89 . but these would be very strange.

difficult. and informative. For example. and I know of no way to 90 . 2. true without any further story to tell about what makes them true. Some analytic claims do have this feature. some analytic claims are theorems of mathematical logic the proofs of which are long.4 Analytic Naturalism We’ve concluded that moral realism depends on the existence of fundamental moral principles that are general and brutely true. We will consider these two views in the sections that follow. Such proofs certainly count as “further stories to tell” about what makes those theorems true. The naturalistic view according to which the fundamental moral principles are analytic is analytic naturalism. however. they will either be true by dint of meaning (e. Very few claims are plausibly taken to be brutely true. That is. “All bachelors are men”) or they will not be so.g. The naturalistic view according to which the fundamental moral principles are synthetic is synthetic naturalism. Might the fundamental moral principles be unobvious analytic principles of some other kind? This is the analytic naturalist’s hope. It strikes me as extremely unlikely.23 When presented with 23 The most familiar analytic claims such as “All bachelors are men” have this feature. but not all of them. that there will be analytic fundamental moral principles the truth of which can be explicated by long proofs.or synthetic.

such a claim we can explain what makes the sentence that expresses it true by explaining the meanings of the words it contains. One who understands English has no need to ask what makes it true that all bachelors are men. or at least very strongly suggests. The thought behind analytic naturalism is that the fundamental moral principle(s) is/are analytic. we’ll have fundamental moral principles that require no explanation. I think.4. It shows. but what his argument actually shows is more modest. If that’s so. it is still an “open question” whether or not X is deprive her of it.1 Direct Analytic Moral Principles and Moore’s Open Question Argument Moore (1959) believes that his “open question argument” shows that moral properties could not be identical with natural properties. is to examine the proposals that are on the table and gauge our expectations based on what we find. That is the business of this section. is whether or not there are any plausible fundamental moral principles that are analytic. then our skeptical problem is solved. 91 . that no direct moral principle can be analytic. the non-linguistic truth-bearer—there is nothing left to explain about why it’s true. 2.” Given that X is an act of lying. but once we’ve gotten past the language and have grasped the meaning of the claim itself—the proposition. The question. then. The best we can do. Take the principle “lying is wrong.

would not be open. but in the hundred or so years since Moore’s argument appeared. it is still an open question whether or not X is good. It just means that it can’t be analytic. This doesn’t mean that this principle can’t be true. Of course. no one. We turn now to a discussion of such principles. to my knowledge.wrong. and that are plausibly taken to be analytic. that produce no apparent conflicts with first order moral intuitions (by virtue of their indirectness). Moreover. 92 .” Given that X is an act that maximizes utility. Thus. Moore rejected all naturalistic analyses of moral terms. given that it’s an act of lying. but he never explicitly considered such analyses in the form of indirect moral principles. and it’s always possible that someone will find a counter-example. Such principles hold the promise of undercutting Moore’s open question argument and placing naturalistic moral realism on a firm foundation. has produced a direct moral principle that appears to be true by dint of meaning. it will have to come in the form of a theory with fundamental moral principles that are indirect. “An act is good if and only if it maximizes utility” cannot be analytic. Were it built into the meaning of “lying” that all acts of lying are wrong. it seems that similar comments will apply to any direct moral principle. Similar comments apply to the utilitarian analysis of “good. Since Moore’s time a number of philosophers have formulated indirect moral principles that are sufficiently general to play the role of fundamental moral principles. the question as to whether or not X is wrong. I think it’s safe to conclude at this point that if analytic naturalism is true. this is an argument from example.

This principle connects two properties: the moral property of wrongness and the property of being an act of which we would disapprove if we were fully informed and fully rational.2 Michael Smith’s Analytic Rationalism: Michael Smith (1994) offers an analysis of moral rightness that might serve as a fundamental moral principle. and rationalism in general. we skeptics will pack up and go home without worrying about how 93 . we’ll make the conservative assumption that this second property is value-neutral. but none is intended. then the second property must be value-neutral. then the above principle won’t do. may take offense at this suggestion. which suggests that it is not. one we’ve encountered already: An act is wrong if and only if we would disapprove of it if we were fully informed and fully rational.2.4. Is it? Philosophers typically think of “rational” as a normative term. Nevertheless. The property of wrongness is a paradigmatic moral/evaluative property. If it’s not. Here we’ll consider a slightly modified version. By making this assumption we’re simply agreeing to give this principle a shot at solving our skeptical problem. Friends of this principle. If this moral principle is going to do the job of connecting moral properties to their subvening value-neutral properties. If we can accept the above principle as true (and true by dint of meaning).

cultures have attempted to reason about right and wrong. One might reason one’s way to this conclusion.” I don’t see how it could. they were not making a claim about idealized rational behavior. one might then jump to the conclusion that all people implicitly recognize that right and wrong is ultimately about nothing more than behaving rationally. (In fact. There is an important difference between being willing to reason about some domain of fact and believing that the facts in that domain are simply facts about what one would conclude if one reasoned properly. but that conclusion is unwarranted. perhaps most. they may have had nothing against rationality. some people did. but that’s not the same thing as their meaning by “wrong” “that of which we would disapprove if we were fully informed and fully rational.the property of being something of which we would disapprove if we were fully informed and fully rational supervenes on (other?) value-neutral properties. The concept of moral wrongness was alive and well long before we Westerners developed our present fondness for rationality. When ancient Israel’s ruling elite declared that it’s wrong for non-priests to enter the inner sanctuary of the holy Temple.) But that doesn’t mean that the fact that that AIDS is caused by a virus is just the fact that we would 94 . Perhaps they thought that more information and more rational appreciation of that information is more likely to push one away from sin than towards it. The question is whether or not “wrong” could really mean “something of which we would disapprove if we were fully informed and fully rational. Of course. With this in mind.” Smith’s analysis has some plausibility because people in many. Take the belief that AIDS is caused by a virus.

if not most. but not all of them have. it’s unlikely that competence with moral concepts and terms requires such a commitment. that Smith does not take “fully informed” to mean fully morally informed. Of course. This rather ambitious claim requires an argument. and at the end of the day many. but to identify the fact that AIDS is caused by a virus with the fact that fully informed (and fully rational) people will believe this is to miss the point. Note. the comprehension of which may or may not be 95 . and my point at present is that an appeal to our willingness to reason about moral matters is not enough. as this would trivialize his analysis. of these traditions take right and wrong to be grounded in some kind of higher metaphysical order. one cannot assume that fully informed and fully rational people could never approve of something that is wrong. As a result. however. What makes it the case that AIDS is caused by a virus is the obtaining of a certain state of affairs involving a virus and a disease. That fully informed people will acknowledge this fact is just a trivial consequence of the fact itself. In most times and places morality has fallen within the province of religion.believe that AIDS is caused by a virus if we were fully informed and fully rational. Therein lies the fact. One can reason about a domain of fact while believing that those facts are true in virtue of things that have nothing to do with us and our rationality. it follows from the fact that AIDS is caused by a virus that fully informed people will believe that this is so. Some religions have developed scholarly traditions according to which moral principles are discussed in a rational way. But even if we were to grant that a commitment to reasoning about moral matters is enough to support Smith’s analysis.

96 . reason alone. and he knew it. Want to avoid wrongdoing? Don’t think too hard. Don’t intellectualize your moral life. His project was decidedly not one of giving expression to the metaethical thought of his contemporaries. Indeed. The difference between rationalists and everyone else is that rationalists believe that Reason. Another way of making the same point: Suppose a would-be philanderer asks. that reason alone provides us with categorical rather than merely hypothetical imperatives. “Why shouldn’t I?” One response: “Because it would be wrong!” Another response: “Because it’s something of which we would disapprove if we were fully informed and fully rational!” There may be something to be said for the persuasive power of the second response. Just put your faith in God and He will guide you. Everyone agrees that people have reasons to do things. or anyone else.e. tells us what to do. i.24 Are such people confused about the meaning of “wrong?” The fact of the matter is that outside of Anglo-American philosophy departments “wrong” has a lot more to do with the Will of God than with idealized rational behavior. Bearing this in mind. but the first one packs a lot more 24 That God tells you not to do something may give you a reason to refrain.accessible to human reason. The people who adopt this approach are clearly not thinking that what they’re aiming for in avoiding wrongdoing is a life that is ideally rational. but this is not sufficient for moral rationalism. the ancient Israelites. This rather esoteric idea was the brainchild of Immanuel Kant. it’s hard to imagine that rationalism could be built into the meaning of “wrong” and other moral terms. many traditions emphasize the importance of faith over reason.

punch. Rather. 97 . there seems to be a genuine difference in content between these two assertions. to say that something would be disapproved of by us if we were fully informed and fully rational is to point out a potentially undesirable feature of the action in question. The first response tells you that there is an unconditional prohibition of such behavior. our discussion is over as soon as we agree that the action in question is wrong. That seems off the mark.26 25 Not “ultimate” in the sense that what is said to be wrong must be gravely wrong. 26 What I’ve presented here is essentially Moore’s open question argument. that you are not supposed to do it regardless of what your interests or commitments are. The second response tells you that certain concerns—concerns which may or may not be terribly important to you—speak against such behavior. To say that something is wrong is to make a kind of “ultimate” condemnation. In contrast. it’s hard to imagine that all (or even most) competent users of the term “wrong” have an implicit commitment to the sort of rationalistic metaphysics that Smith has attempted to pack into the meanings of moral terms. obviously or unobviously. at least for most people. Once again. Why? Why should the first response be so much more forceful if these two responses mean the same thing? Perhaps the difference is merely one of rhetorical effectiveness—it’s a punchier way of putting the point. It shows that Smith’s principle must be either synthetic or unobviously analytic.25 Insofar as we are interested in observing the requirements of morality. The arguments presented above suggest that it is not analytic. but rather in the sense that it’s wrongness does not depend on the interests or commitments of the agent in question.

Even if we take the thinnest notion of rationality available. If being rational amounts to little or nothing more than being logically consistent. “Why must I be rational (and therefore moral) in that sense?” At the same time. For something to be morally wrong it has to be unconditionally prohibited. behave as “reasonable” people do. Bear in mind that Smith’s principle is supposed to be analytic. the one with the broadest appeal. and ultimately morality. in fact). this is a moot point because the question before us is whether or not there is a sense of “rational” that is at once sufficiently thick and sufficiently thin to plug into Smith’s formula. and it turns out that there is no notion of rationality that is sufficiently thin for this purpose. then rationality. Smith’s rationalism requires a thick notion of rationality. and selfish jerks can be fully informed and fully logically consistent. This calls for a thin notion of rationality. If we build into the idea of rationality that rational people will behave in certain ways. As it happens. becomes optional. There are among us selfish jerks. but even that would not suffice for reasons that will be explained in the next section. but its elasticity won’t help in this case because Smith’s rationalism requires a notion of rationality that is simultaneously very “thick” and very “thin” (impossibly thin. and plug it into Smith’s 98 . One might hope that there would just happen to be no selfish jerks among our fully rational and logically consistent counterparts. then there are no substantive aims that “we” would share once we’ve been fully informed and made fully rational.The concept of “rationality” is no doubt rather elastic. It must follow from the fact that some act is wrong that it is “not to be done” regardless of the commitments or interests of particular people. One can coherently ask.

e. The point for now is simply that this principle can’t be analytic. no notion of rationality is thin enough to make Smith’s principle true by dint of meaning. Smith (Again).4. Frank Jackson (1998) defends a form of analytic naturalism. To deny it is not to contradict oneself.” Of course. this doesn’t mean that Smith’s (modified) principle is false. To claim that we might approve of something that is wrong even if we were fully informed and fully logically consistent (i. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that I and others who share my proclivities are in the minority.” The essence of his view is this. For all we’ve said it might turn out that the things that are wrong are all and only those things of which we would disapprove if we were fully informed and fully rational. and Lewis Like Michael Smith.3 The Specter of Relativism: Jackson. fully thinly rational) is not to contradict oneself.” for example) and call that collection folk 99 . The search for a notion of rationality that is not too thick and not too thin is a project for those who would endorse a synthetic version of Smith’s principle. we still won’t get a principle that’s true by dint of meaning. Thus. 2. “Wrong” simply does not mean “that of which we would disapprove if we were fully informed and fully rational. Like most Anglo-American philosophers.formula. Collect all of the standard ethical platitudes (“Lying is generally wrong. I’m a big fan of full rationality and full information. a view that goes under the headings “analytic descriptivism” and “moral functionalism.

Then say that the property of wrongness is whatever property plays the wrongness role according to mature folk morality. the same sorts of objections made against Smith’s view in the previous section apply to Jackson’s. Such people may be mistaken about the nature of morality. Similar remarks apply to all moral properties. Some have even claimed that acting rightly is a matter of putting reason aside in order to be guided by faith. that if we were to submit our views to enough critical reflection we would all turn out to be utilitarians. 100 . And yet that is what both 27 Method follows Lewis (1970). then we can’t build a rationalist meta-ethics into the meaning of “wrong” without changing the subject. As noted above. Both views allow the nature of wrongness to be determined by the outcome of some kind of hypothetical rational discourse. it’s not because the they are incompetent users of words such as “wrong. This view is similar to Smith’s in many ways. Call whatever folk morality would become after sufficient critical reflection mature folk morality. Not surprisingly. then wrongness is—is today—the property of failing to maximize utility. but we don’t have to agree with their meta-ethical views to acknowledge that if they are mistaken.morality. many people and many cultures have taken morality to have nothing to do with reason. for example.” If people with anti-rationalist meta-ethical views aren’t merely confused about what “wrong” means.27 So it might turn out. Both views are forms of analytic naturalism that make use of some improved form of our present moral thought to indirectly pick out the value-neutral properties on which the moral properties supervene. If that turns out to be the case.

The problem with this view is that it makes right and wrong a matter of what we happen to think right now.) Remember Sherlock Holmes and his crime-solving intuitions. in a slightly different form. moralists accept. a theory about its own nature. Part of what we ordinarily think about morality is that the content of morality is not determined by what we happen to think about morality at present. I wish to focus on a different problem with Jackson’s view (one that is. But that’s not how morality works according to folk moral theory. it legislates against a kind of absolutism that many. (This highlights a point worth emphasizing. however.Jackson and Smith do. Jackson’s moral functionalism allows the content of morality to be determined by accidental features of human history. The fact that we think something is wrong doesn’t make it wrong any more than Sherlock Holmes’ beliefs about the identity of the guilty party determine who committed the crime.” A simpler version of Jackson’s view would be one according to which we dropped the bit about critical reflection and said that wrongness is just whatever plays the wrongness role according to folk morality as it presently exists. if not most. The problem is that Jackson’s account of the meanings of moral terms will render morality unacceptably relativistic. In other words they’re both guilty of distorting the meaning of moral terms. Here. also shared by Smith’s theory and Lewis’ (1989) dispositional theory of value). Folk moral theory includes its own meta-theory. That is. 101 . thus failing to give the true moral principles the right “modal profile.

Jackson’s view unwittingly rules out such beliefs. They may even call it their “moral code” According to this 102 .” But this doesn’t really solve the problem. by putting the “mature” in “mature folk morality.Jackson attempts to solve this problem by supplementing the simple view described above with his “critical reflection” clause. critical reflection might lead one to different places. are wrong in an absolute. Jackson recognizes that. but the fact remains that most people want to say that some things. even dominant. then we’ve accomplished nothing. Most people. depending on where one starts. All we’ve said is that wrongness is whatever would play the wrongness role in our theory once our theory has been perfected by a process that is guaranteed to perfect it. what Jackson has in mind. Most people will occasionally say. subscribe to moral views that are not “absolutist” in the sense of being Draconian or rigid. If we build into the idea of “critical reflection” that enough of it will take any moral system and turn it into the single true moral system. Indeed. it actually legislates against a rather commonplace. We may grant all of this. 137). Not only does it allow for relativism. however. This is not. form of absolutism. we’ll suppose. Imagine a planet used as a penal colony where thousands of hardened criminals are deposited. as the following example demonstrates. These exiles have a code of behavior that plays the role of a moral system. “When in Rome…” and thus allow that different moral rules will apply to different people in different circumstances. non-relative way. sadistic torture for example. he acknowledges that his view allows for the possibility of relativism (Pg. The problem is that his view actually goes a step further.

ours or theirs? (And remember. better yet.) There are two ways to go here. on this planet. (Following Horgan and Timmons (1992). how our society would have developed had things gone slightly differently in early human history. a common pastime. Certainly we would say that these people behave wrongly. or. But whose mature folk theory.”) We still want to say that the way these people treat one another is horribly wrong. The second option is to is to “rigidify. Now forget the part about this planets’ being a penal colony and assume instead that this is simply how their society developed on its own. both of which lead to relativism and the rejection of commonplace absolutism. Wrongness becomes whatever property plays the wrongness role according to the correct moral theory.code individuals are allowed to kill and maim each other with little cause. The first option is to say that wrongness varies from possible world to possible world. If the maturation process is guaranteed to turn all folk theories into the one true moral theory then this mysterious maturation process does all the work and trivializes Jackson’s view. But what does it mean to say this? According to Jackson what we’re saying is that these people are committing acts that have the property that plays the wrongness role according to mature folk moral theory. we can call this planet “Moral Twin Earth. Torturing fellow inmates is. we can’t assume that ours and theirs will end up being the same theory. depending on what property plays the wrongness role in the improved version of the local folk morality.” to say that wrongness is the property that plays the wrongness role according to the improved version of folk morality in the actual 103 .

are so far gone that no amount of critical reflection on their parts would lead them to change their minds. according to the folk. (Once again.) Next we’ll suppose that this group of people who sadistically torture each other. The folk may go in for some amount of relativity. What about the second option? “Rigidifying. Then ask her if it would still be wrong to torture people for fun if it were a socially accepted practice (like slavery was in past centuries). the Twin Earthlings.” but they won’t stand for the kind of deep relativism that Jackson’s theory requires. Ask one of the folk if it’s wrong to torture people for fun. (It was upon realizing that this is so that we rejected the simpler version of Jackson’s theory. thus making wrongness the same property in all possible worlds. This interpretation of 104 . just pushes the bump in the carpet. in our world. Presumably. a relativism that rules out any kind of absolutist moral commitment.” unfortunately. and she’ll say yes. still going to be wrong in worlds in which the inhabitants are so far gone that even their improved moral system looks wrong to us. some adherence to “When in Rome…. To rigidify in this case is to say that “wrong” refers to that property which would play the wrongness role according to an improved version of folk morality as it exists on Earth at the present time. the one without the maturity clause.world.) Would their torturous behavior still be wrong? Surely our folk moralist would say that even then it would still be wrong. Lesson: The folk aren’t happy with the first option. we can’t assume that this is impossible. The kind of behavior that we think of as morally abysmal is. she would answer that it would still be wrong.

” According to the rigidification story.“wrong” builds into it a hidden indexical.” But we all know that that’s not the right account of what’s going on in this hypothetical disagreement.28 This point is illustrated by considering the consequences of the fact that Twin Earthlings will have their own use of the word “wrong. as making implicit reference to a particular place or time. using terminology employed by Chalmers (1996) among others. arguing over the phone about which city is “here. Even if we sometimes apply moral terms with the understanding that they contain hidden indexicals. at least in many cases. but that the folk want an absolutist primary intension as well. one in New York and one in San Francisco. We can say that their behavior is “wrong” only because we’ve stipulated that wrong means “wrong by improved Earth standards” as opposed to wrong in some more universal sense. there’s no real disagreement here. just a miscommunication. Such a disagreement would be like one between two people. The problem is that we don’t ordinarily think of “wrong” as indexical. Ordinary moral thought supposes that there is what I call an 28 Another way of putting this point. and we’re saying that gratuitous torture does not fit in well with a matured version of our folk morality. is to say that by rigidifying we give terms like “wrong” an absolutist secondary intension and a relativist primary intension. The Twin Earthlings are simply saying that gratuitous torture fits in well with a matured version of their folk morality. It solves the problem of our having to admit that the Twin Earthlings way of life is not wrong. 105 . but it does so at a cost. this need not always be the case.” The Twin Earthlings say that torturing people for fun is “not wrong” and we say that it’s “wrong.

Jackson’s moral functionalism cannot accommodate the fact that the folk take their morality to be absolute when it comes to certain things. but there’s no denying that these two points of view are. And. but then they can say the same thing about us. And yet that is what folk moralists want to deny.) The point. Of course. as long as we insist that “wrong” and the like are indexical terms. Yes. (Indeed. in this case. And yet that is what moral functionalism does by making right and wrong depend on (improved 106 . ordinary moral thought could be wrong about this. We don’t want an account of moral language that renders ordinary moral thought incoherent.ultimate asymmetry between those in the moral right and those in the moral wrong and. between ourselves and the Twin Earthlings. Jackson’s view unwittingly denies that this is so. or necessarily wrong but only from one particular point of view. ultimately symmetrical. that their condemnation of our behavior is morally mistaken and that our condemnation of theirs is morally legitimate. once again. implying that such behavior is either not necessarily wrong. Ordinary moral thought supposes that there must be a deep and ultimate moral asymmetry between those who engage in gratuitous torture and those who do not. but rather that no satisfactory account of the meaning of moral terms should legislate against it. from our point of view. I think it is. is not that this aspect of folk morality is correct. we can say. they can play the same game. At each level we can take refuge in our own point of view. however. yes. by rigidifying we can say that their behavior is ultimately and absolutely wrong in a non-relative way. Whether or not we choose to rigidify. but.

The most we can say if we’re not willing to exclude them from the “we” is that their behavior is “wrong according to idealized Earth standards. according to this view. when we say that their sadistic ways are “wrong” and they say that these practices are “not wrong” we’re not. like Jackson’s. Smith’s view. then we simply build the relativism into the meaning of “wrong. legislates 29 As noted in Section 1. the sense associated with their own term “not wrong. 107 .versions of) what we happen to think here and now. as before. Let us suppose that their depravity runs so deep that they would still approve of the awful things they do if they were fully informed and fully rational. in a curious twist. this argument applies to claims that quasi-realism would not have moral truths depend on our moral sensibilities. that we can’t satisfy the demands of folk morality by allowing the content of true morality to be determined by the content of folk morality. equally absolute sense. Either way.” If instead we restrict the “we” to Earthlings. really disagreeing. The question then arises.” And. Thus we find.1. if we would disapprove of their behavior under conditions of full information and full rationality. “Who counts as ‘we?’” If “we” includes the Moral Twin Earthlings then “we” would not disapprove of their behavior under those idealized conditions and so their behavior is not wrong. Consider once again the morally depraved inhabitants of Moral Twin Earth. Is their behavior “wrong?” It’s wrong.29 Smith’s view runs into similar trouble. according to Smith.” Their behavior becomes absolutely wrong—they really do violate (improved) Earth standards—but their behavior is also “not wrong” in an equally legitimate. or even by improved folk morality.

against the possibility of making a coherent absolutist condemnation of the nasty Twin Earthlings. but I will argue that such optimism is unfounded. I doubt that what Lewis calls the “absolute version” is absolute enough.” We might suppose. Lewis is well aware of the problems identified in the foregoing discussions of Smith and Jackson and that these problems may threaten his own view. Furthermore. everything turns on our interpretation of “we. an analysis one might hope to parlay into an analysis of moral terms such as “right” and “wrong” and thus into a moral theory.” Lewis identifies “valuing” with “desiring to desire. He states that “something of the appropriate category is a value if and only if we would be disposed. etc. he remains optimistic.” and “we” with “the speaker and those somehow like him” where this “somehow” is used to produce as wide a “we” as circumstances will allow. under ideal conditions. that Moral Twin Earthlings value sadistic torture and fail to value loving kindness. as before. to value it.” “ideal conditions” with “conditions of full imaginative acquaintance. we might assume that they are immune to 108 .” Unless “mankind” refers to all possible individuals of whom moral evaluation is appropriate. In his contribution to “Dispositional Theories of Value” (1989) David Lewis offers an analysis of value. Nevertheless. As before. Many would condemn the Moral Twin Earthlings for their nasty behavior and values regardless of whether they count as part of “mankind.” Lewis outlines what he takes to be the strictest interpretation: “An absolute version of the dispositional theory says that ‘we’ refers to all mankind.

According to these views we could be dramatically wrong about the moral facts because the moral facts according to these views depend on idealized versions of our present dispositions/sensibilities and not on our actual 109 . then.) Unless we are willing to say that ordinary moralists who stand by such assertions are not merely mistaken but actually confused about what it means for something to be a value. (At the very least. I’ve done this primarily because the dependence of the moral facts on our dispositions/sensibilities is. and Lewis as views according to which the moral facts depend on our minds. according to these views. then we can’t accept Lewis’ analysis of “value” and any further analyses or theories that depend on it. we have to exclude the Twin Earthlings from the “we” (thus rigidifying). they want to say things like this sometimes.1 I stipulated that moral realism requires a commitment to mind-independent moral facts. If we want to avoid saying that loving kindness (or whatever) is not valuable.improvement through fuller imaginative acquaintance with these objects. Jackson. Note: In Section 1. While one can interpret the views of Smith. rather indirect. on our dispositions or sensibilities. as before. But can we do this while remaining true (or true enough) to the meanings of our words? Ordinary moralists want to say that the Twin Earthlings have mistaken values and that there is no ultimately symmetrical sense of “mistaken values” according to which this is not so. I have chosen to classify these views as realist.

dispositions/sensibilities.4 Realist Relativism One way to be an analytic naturalist is to be a realist relativist.4. like truths about what is or is not legal. and more directly so than according to Smith. I also noted in Section 1. that lands these views in trouble. Jackson. A relativist is one who believes that moral claims.1 that some self-described moral realists such as John McDowell (1985) maintain that the moral facts are mind-dependent. conventional.” Is it legal simpliciter? No such thing. 2. as they are ordinarily stated. Gibbard and Railton. if by “legal” you mean “legal in Amsterdam. according to this view. Slavery is wrongus. Moral truths are. Likewise. 1992) and other like-minded views.1. All legality is legality relative to some system of laws. it is precisely this element of dependence. but it’s not wrongancient Hittites. and Lewis—arguments aimed at the mind-dependence inherent in these views—apply to McDowell’s “sensibility” theory (Darwall. More on McDowell and related views in Section 4.6. however indirect. Who’s correct? We both are. There is 110 . Nevertheless. can only be true relative to some moral framework and not true in some absolute sense.”. Is smoking marijuana legal? Yes. the arguments made in this section against Smith. and Lewis. no. Jackson. and we say that it is wrong. We don’t have slaves. for moral claims. if you mean “legal in New York. The ancient Hittites had slaves and said that slavery is not wrong. says the relativist. Thus.

then moral relativism and moral realism are correct. but claims nonetheless that moral relativism can stand as a form of realism. no one of which is privileged above the others. 1996) acknowledges that many people intend their moral assertions to be absolutely true. He points out that nearly everyone prior to Einstein thought that there were absolute facts about what 111 . although there are. then. If what it means for something to be wrong is for it to be wrong according to the relevant moral framework. is value-neutral. is whether or not this relativist account of the meaning of moral terms is plausible. I maintain that it is not. (This is in spite of the fact that most people tend to think of moral relativism as a kind of moral skepticism. in this case the property of being wrong according to the relevant moral framework.) The question. All wrongness is wrongness relative to some moral system. then it has the moral property of being wrong.) If this view of the meaning of moral terms is correct. then it will be analytic that if something has the value-neutral property of being wrong according to the relevant framework. This is in spite of the fact that the realist-relativist’s account of the meanings of moral terms doesn’t exactly fit with what people have in mind when they use them. Where does this view stand with respect to moral skepticism? There certainly are facts about what is or is not wrong according to various moral frameworks. (Here we’re once again making the conservative assumption that the candidate subvening property. others who disagree.30 When people at Human Rights Watch say that female genital 30 Harman (Harman and Thomson.no such thing as wrong simpliciter. much to my amazement.

We now know that all such motion is relative to some spatio-temporal framework. are relative. but such a fight would have been senseless had they both taken themselves to be talking past each other.” And it would make even less sense if people were inclined to fight about which objects are or are not in motion. (Galileo and Bellarmine had such a fight.objects are or are not in uniform straight-line motion. and sometimes people are willing to fight each other over what they consider “right” and “wrong. Rather we say that there are such facts. Likewise. Also. too. Under such conditions it would make little sense to speak of objects as simply “moving” or “not moving. but the physics-morality analogy ultimately fails to hold up. The fact that motion turns out to be relative doesn’t make much of a difference for the purposes to 112 . we shouldn’t deny that there are moral facts and thus reject moral realism simply because it turns out that moral facts. The people of the world do have many different moral frameworks. Suppose people were constantly zipping around near the speed of light so that different individuals typically resided in substantially different spatiotemporal frameworks. are relative.) Such circumstances are analogous to the present circumstances in ethics. only uniform straight line motion is relative. he argues.” In the physical case. we can get away with acting as if there really is an (absolute) fact of the matter about what is or is not moving because we all share the same spatio-temporal framework. but we don’t say that there are no facts about what is or is not moving. like facts about motion. but that these facts. contrary to what most people thought (and probably still think). and that was not the sort of motion in question. This is a clever argument.

he’s disagreeing with them. but also that their moral framework. He’s denying that what they’ve said is true. And they don’t mean merely that their moral framework is correct according to their moral framework. While some would disagree.mutilation is wrong. It is not their intention to state a sociological fact about what is or is not allowed by the norms they and their kind endorse. Rather. one that is. he’s not making a different sociological claim about his culture’s mores. when someone who is pro-female genital mutilation says that this practice is not wrong. the one to which they happen to adhere. contrary to appearances. Rather. In contrast. they are saying that it’s wrong in some absolute sense. the way we talk about moral matters at present makes no sense on the assumption that moral claims can only be true relative to some moral framework and not absolutely.) 113 . They mean that it’s correct absolutely. (More on the pragmatics of ordinary moral discourse in Chapter 4. I am going which we ordinarily put physical language. it’s a matter of ultimate asymmetry. they aren’t simply claiming that it’s wrong according to some particular moral framework. Witness the not-so-hypothetical discussion below concerning female genital mutilation. What’s more. entirely compatible with everything the folks at Human Rights Watch have said. I am going to assume that the assertions made in the previous paragraph are correct and that the foregoing relativist account of the meanings of moral terms is inaccurate. They not only mean that it’s wrong according to their moral framework. or close enough for human rights work. unlike those of the perpetrators of female genital mutilation. is the correct moral framework. (Once again.) Likewise.

Such principles are bound to be hard to find. moral relativism is really a kind of moral skepticism. 114 .5 Other Forms of Analytic Naturalism Once again. one must contradict oneself. 2. at least when they are properly understood. The strategy of the analytic naturalist is to look for fundamental moral principles among the analytic principles. To deny such a principle. however. and such principles must be plausible as principles for which there is no further explanation. 31 See previous footnote. fundamental moral principles must connect value-neutral properties to moral properties. they must be true by dint of meaning. As most people recognize. Fundamental moral principles that are supposed to be analytic must not only square with our first order moral intuitions (or so most ethicists assume). I’m assuming that the foregoing account of the meanings of moral assertions is not “close enough” to serve as a set of reforming definitions for moral terms.31 (More on reforming definitions in the next section. is very ambitious. This strategy. a good idea given that analytic principles are generally self-explanatory.) I conclude that analytic naturalism in the form of realist relativism fails for lack of a plausible account of what people mean when they make moral claims.4. In other words.to assume that it is central to what people have in mind when they make moral assertions that their assertions are absolutely true.

” Given that both groups use these terms competently. some people understand right and wrong to be dictates of “pure practical reason. these varied cultures (and subcultures) have radically different meta-ethical pictures. In Jackson’s case we saw that a moral principle that equates true morality with (improved) folk morality is itself inconsistent with the folk morality it attempts to accommodate. In contrast.” “good. Defining “right” and “wrong” in terms of 115 . and Lewis’ theory of value has similar problems. if not all. both the sophisticated rationalists of today and the simple pagans of the past are competent users of terms like “right” and “wrong. however appealing such a principle may be to us philosophy types. Most. cultures have some sort of moral system and some set of evaluative terms that correspond roughly to our terms “right. can’t be analytic given the diversity of meta-ethical views conceptually competent people have held and continue to hold. At the same time. We also saw that analytic naturalism in the form of realist relativism depends on implausible assumptions about what people mean by their moral claims. one has to wonder what account of the meanings of such terms could be compatible with such radically different meta-ethical viewpoints and at the same time provide a foundation for substantive moral claims. Could other analytic principles fare better? There’s no way to say for sure.” “wrong.” What’s more.In Smith’s case we saw that a fundamental moral principle that equates moral behavior with idealized rational behavior. Some cultures have understood right and wrong in terms of what is or is not pleasing to the gods they worship. but there are good reasons to think that the answer is no.” “bad.” etc.

The thought here is that it’s not entirely clear what people mean by terms like “wrong” and that perhaps on some legitimate resolutions of such semantic indeterminacy there will turn out to be analytic moral principles that could serve as fundamental moral principles. that while there are only a few people who definitely mean 32 Of course. 1952).idealized rational behavior won’t square with the pagans’ use of these terms. Perhaps the analytic naturalist will take refuge in the possibility of semantic indeterminacy for moral terms. rationalists included. not to be done. but not to describe (Hare.) Moreover. from each of our points of view. we can’t tie the meaning of terms like “wrong” to particular first order moral views since we can imagine cultures with first order moral views that are radically different from our own. when people say that something is wrong they don’t usually mean that it’s wrong merely from a particular point of view. gratuitous torture is not “wrong.32 (This squares with the old non-cognitivist dictum that. the practical function of evaluative terms is to recommend.” for instance. contrary to appearances. is that the things that we call “wrong” and the things that they call “wrong” are.” It’s hard to imagine how any analysis of moral terms could be compatible with such a wide range of first order and meta-ethical views without being trivial. for example. 116 . We understand perfectly well what is being described when we suppose that. It seems that the common denominator between our uses and their use of the term “wrong. according to the Twin Earthling’s moral code. to guide action. Likewise. Is it possible. defining “right” and “wrong” in terms of that which pleases the gods won’t suit us.

But would your average Joe 33 Note that semantic indeterminacy concerning the meaning of “rational” won’t help here because. how many people even sort of think that the maiming and torturing that goes on at Moral Twin Earth isn’t wrong. See Section 4.e. have rather definite opinions about these things.4 for an explicit discussion of the problem projectivist psychology poses for analytic naturalism. or sort of think that a Moral Twin Earthling who says that torture is morally good isn’t really disagreeing with us (because moral terms are implicitly indexical). indeterminately) think that this is what “wrong” means? Even this less ambitious claim about what people mean by “wrong” strikes me as implausible. It seems to me that the vast majority of people. Your average Joe may be willing to entertain the meta-ethical thesis that perfectly informed and perfectly rational versions of ourselves would be unable to approve of things that are immoral.) Remember that we’re not talking about disagreements or uncertainty in ethical or meta-ethical opinion but rather about indeterminacy in the meanings of moral terms. there is no conception of rationality that is sufficiently thin to make Smith’s principle true by dint of meaning. 117 .1.” there are a great many others who sort of (i. (Why this should be so will emerge in Chapter 3 in which we will consider the projectivist account of moral psychology. How many people even sort of think it’s trivially true that if we were fully informed and fully rational it would be impossible for us to approve of something that is morally wrong?33 Likewise. and that most people view these commitments as non-negotiable. past and present.by “wrong” “that of which we would disapprove if we were fully informed and fully rational. once again.

but then suggest that we change what we mean by such terms. The question. I would rather table this issue until Section 4. that’s what we mean by “wrong” etc. that to think otherwise might be like believing in round squares? Who but very optimistic Anglo-American philosophers even sort of holds such views? Of course. I can’t prove that semantic indeterminacy won’t save analytic naturalism. one might follow Smith’s lead and say that henceforth “wrong” means “that of which we would disapprove if we were fully informed and fully rational. One might concede that no realist analysis of moral terms like “right” and “wrong” will be compatible with how these terms are actually used (even when we take into account semantic indeterminacy). Rather than pushing ahead with this debate. But I’m sticking to my guns. and then stipulate that. that it just follows from what people mean by “wrong” that this is so. from here on out. however. there is yet another strategy to try. We might find an analysis that is close enough to what most people have had in mind (or sort of have in mind). For example. is whether or not it 118 .” No one’s to stop us from doing this. at least not without doing a great deal of historical and sociological research. We’re free to mean what we want by our words. For the analytic naturalist who’s lost faith in the promise of semantic indeterminacy.7. then. Hanging one’s hopes for moral realism on a favorable resolution of semantic indeterminacy in moral terms strikes me as a very desperate move.2 in which I argue that this sort of moral realism (moral realism grounded in indirect moral principles) isn’t worth trying to save in the first place.say that this thesis might be trivially true.

Once again. In Chapter 4 I will argue that we should drop the language of moral realism altogether. strictly speaking. solve the skeptical problem. physical properties. low-level physical properties would not be value-neutral. value-neutral properties are properties that we can ascribe to objects without logically committing ourselves to any value judgments.” where such claims are 119 . suffice it to say that the analytic naturalist whose fundamental principles amount to reforming definitions of moral terms does not. is once again. strictly speaking. We were talking about the possibility of true moral principles of the form “If something has such and such low-level.makes sense to follow this course.2. Whether or not this could be a good strategy nonetheless. and in order to make that determination we need to know what the alternatives are. then it has such and such moral properties. We said that low-level physical properties appear to be value-neutral. but that if it were possible to logically deduce evaluative claims from the ascription of some lowlevel physical properties then. In making that caveat. but in doing so we acknowledged that there is a chance that this might not actually be so. and I will explain why this option makes more sense than the reforming analytic naturalist’s option of preserving moral realism (in name only) by changing what we mean by our moral terms. we were really talking about the possibility that some form of analytic naturalism might turn out to be true. at least not all of them.7. In the meantime. I must dispense with one piece of unfinished business before moving on. We said earlier that moral properties supervene on value-neutral properties. a matter to which we will return in Section 4.

or pick out properties that are “necessarily equivalent. say.5 Synthetic Naturalism 2.”34 34 For our purposes we can say that two properties that are necessarily coextensive are the same property.taken to be analytic. Philosophers who embrace this conclusion while maintaining a commitment to naturalism are synthetic naturalists. The thought behind synthetic naturalism is not that “is wrong” and. but rather that two such terms may pick out the same property nonetheless. they will have to be synthetic.5. If such principles are not going to be analytic.1 The Synthetic Naturalist’s Strategy In the previous sections I explained why it’s unlikely that the fundamental moral principles. “is an act that fails to maximize happiness” mean the same thing. the ones that forge the crucial links between the moral properties and the value-neutral properties on which they supervene. We’ve since made our case against analytic naturalism. 120 . 2. are going to be analytic. we can now say without qualification that moral properties supervene on value-neutral properties. Whatever skeptical worries I raise about identities between moral and value-neutral properties can be reformulated as worries about analogous necessary equivalences. and insofar as that case is sound.

two properties can be semantically distinct and identical. then there must be some synthetic moral principles that are brutely true. But it does need to be confronted. like all forms of moral realism. that admit of no further explanation. wrongness) is really the same property as some semantically distinct35 value-neutral property (e. The problem with synthetic naturalism arises out of the fact that it. As this term is used here.g. Moore’s “open question argument” sets the stage once again. failure to maximize utility) without there being some story to tell about why those two properties are one and the same? Analytic naturalists deliberately sidestep this question by attempting to connect properties that are not semantically distinct. is implicitly committed to the existence of fundamental moral principles that are not plausible as fundamental moral principles. In contrast to analytic naturalists like Smith and Jackson. Thus.There may be a variety of synthetic moral principles that are plausibly true so far as our first order intuitions are concerned. The problem with synthetic naturalism is not that it commits one to moral principles that are intuitively implausible. Synthetic naturalists typically fail to realize that this problem needs to be confronted. our skeptical problem with respect to synthetic naturalism is this: How could it be that some evaluative property (e. the synthetic naturalist agrees with Moore that for any natural property it may well be an “open question” whether or 35 A pair of “semantically distinct” properties is a pair of properties whose names are semantically distinct. and synthetic naturalists will not have an adequate answer when the time comes to do so. or so I will argue. If synthetic naturalism is true.g. 121 .

Consider someone who knows what “water” means and knows what it means for some substance to have the chemical structure H2O but doesn’t know that this is the chemical structure of water. Synthetic naturalism avoids many of the pitfalls of other forms of moral realism. Unlike analytic naturalists. but maintains. The strategy of synthetic naturalists is largely one of shifting the burden of proof onto the skeptic. Unlike utilitarians and traditional deontologists. the synthetic naturalist avoids distorting the meanings of moral terms. it’s an open question whether or not they are in fact the same. wrongness are really the same property even though. Likewise. a synthetic naturalist need not commit herself to the truth of any direct and general moral principle and thus can avoid conflicts with first order moral intuitions. say. contra Moore. that two such properties might nevertheless be the same. it might turn out that some natural property and. 122 . but that doesn’t mean that the property of being water and the property of being H2O are not ultimately the same property. and perhaps we never will. This claim is simply serving as an example of a synthetic claim that is plausibly taken to be necessarily true.36 For such a person it’s an “open question” whether or not these two properties have much to do with each other at all. We haven’t reduced macro-economic facts to lower-level facts. as it can be further explained. at this point at least. Does this mean we should be 36 The claim that water is H2O is not brutely true.not something that has that property also has some evaluative/moral property. They argue by analogy like so: Macro-economic facts supervene on lower-level facts. say the synthetic naturalists.

I will make my case based on considerations that are specific to the domain of value. 123 . Rather. the divide between the evaluative and the value-neutral properties. then. As it happens. or.macro-economic skeptics? Surely not. I don’t think that the relation between macro-economic facts (etc.38 but not between moral properties and the lower-level properties on which they supervene. All of the synthetic naturalist’s models for how high-level properties supervene on low-level properties in the 37 38 This sort of argument is found in Boyd (1988) and Sturgeon (1988). she asks. supervenience relationships in many domains. We need to explain why we can accept non-reductive. Why. 2. should the complicated and not-completely-understood supervenience of moral facts on lower-level facts drive us toward moral skepticism?37 To meet the synthetic naturalist’s challenge. Why.2 Synthetic Naturalism and the Problem of Fundamental Moral Principles The synthetic naturalist points out that many high-level properties supervene on lower-level properties in the absence of principles that reduce the former to the latter. but my argument here will not depend on my taking this view. in our terms. is this a problem for moral properties? The answer has to do with the infamous “is”/”ought” divide.) and lower-level facts is non-reductive. we skeptics have to explain what it is about the moral case that’s special.5.

The problem with this story is that it can never have a satisfying ending. value-neutral properties. because they are fundamental. principles that link evaluative properties such as wrongness to the value-neutral properties on which they supervene. psychology. philosophers (with a little help from their friends in other disciplines) may someday uncover the essence of wrongness. We start out with some water. managed to uncover the essence of water. But moral properties. At some point. The synthetic naturalist claims that the relationship between wrongness and the lower-level properties on which it supervenes is like the relationship between water and H2O. and they will do so not by a priori theorizing alone. but through a complex interplay between theory and observation. Consider the following abridged and oversimplified history of our understanding of water and H2O.) are all cases in which both the subvening and the supervening properties fall on the same side of the evaluative/value-neutral divide. and they are supposed to supervene on lower-level. natural kinds. will admit of no further explanation. to find out what it really is (or so we’ll assume). etc. Scientists. This is what distinguishes moral supervenience from the other cases. using a combination of theory and observation. as we know. We perform a 124 . The reason is that in the final act we will inevitably encounter fundamental moral principles. It’s a compelling story. and these principles. are evaluative properties. Likewise. someone hypothesizes that water has the chemical structure H2O.absence of reductive principles linking them (macro-economics. but its being compelling depends on the fact that it’s not yet finished.

but we didn’t believe it until we heard more of the story. more about the specific nature of the relationship between being water and being H2O. That is. indeed. To get a sense for how queer (Mackie. As this abridged history suggests. first with a direct moral principle and then with an indirect one. 39 I am not saying that no moral principles of this form can be explained. we might see it as an intriguing possibility and one about which we would like to hear more. 1977) this is. It will have to be brutely true.number of experiments to test this hypothesis. we were willing to entertain the idea that water is H2O at the outset. At the outset. by hypothesis.” and there’s going to be no explanation for why that’s so. and after a while we come to the conclusion that. about how the fact that water is H2O explains why water has the observable properties it has. One must bear in mind that we are talking about fundamental moral principles of this form which. it does have this structure. The problem is that as the story of wrongness unfolds we’re going to run into a “hypothesis” about which there is no more to hear. let’s make the case more concrete. It’s going to be some principle of the form “Anything that has such and such value-neutral property is going to have such and such moral property. 125 . we might look upon some moralist’s hypothesis concerning what wrongness really is in the same way that we looked upon the hypothesis that water is H2O before it was confirmed. cannot be explained.39 The principle won’t be analytic—recall that we’re discussing synthetic naturalism—so it won’t be self-explanatory in the way that analytic claims are. at some point we’re going to be confronted with a fundamental moral principle. That is.

It doesn’t seem crazy to think that. no matter how plausible at the 126 . the Buck-Stopper. old-fashioned utilitarianism isn’t very plausible. But might we not be satisfied if we were presented with a different set of principles. It depends on our thinking that the aforementioned process of observation and theorizing will leave us with some kind of deeper understanding of why wrongness turned out to be—indeed had to be—failure to maximize aggregate happiness and not something else. but rather the Holy Grail of moral theory. one according to which an act is wrong if and only if it fails to maximize aggregate happiness. our willingness to entertain this hypothesis depends on our thinking that there is some further story to tell about why this is so. understood this time as synthetic? I doubt it. and Jackson. Lewis. However. But what if this utilitarian principle turned up at the end of the story rather than at the beginning? What if it were not a hypothesis to be fleshed out by further investigation. Like all direct and general moral theories that have been explored to any significant degree. Or would we? Perhaps it’s just that we’ve yet to consider the right sort of synthetic fundamental moral principle. ones with a little more flair and/or subtlety? (Ones that are indirect!) Might we not be satisfied with principles more like the ones proposed by Smith. we might discover that the true essence of wrongness is failure to maximize aggregate happiness (or some such thing).Consider a utilitarian theory. after some complex process of observation and theorizing. That’s because all such principles. the Grand Finale? This would be most unsatisfying: “Wrongness just is failure to maximize utility? That’s it? Nothing more to say?” We’d all want our money back.

moral property on the right). (Remember that the synthetic naturalist agrees with Moore that such questions will appear to be open. once again. Take. these fundamental moral principles will have to have a certain structure (value-neutral property on the left. will have to straddle the evaluative/value-neutral divide.outset. Moreover. The problem is that no matter what story we tell about some moral principles. with a putative connection between a moral 127 . the case of wrongness. there will have to be other moral principles for which there is no story to tell about why they’re true. as far as you can tell. He’s going to tell you that the principle connecting these two properties is just brutely true. You’re going to look at this value-neutral property and you’re going to think that. something that has this property may or may not turn out to be wrong. Synthetic naturalism can’t fulfill its promise—not even in principle—because it will always land us back where we started. Some value-neutral property will have to be identical to wrongness. and any principle that has that structure is going to cry out for explanation.) And then he’s going to tell you that your question “Why?” has no answer. And that’s when you’re going to want your money back. Synthetic naturalism turns out to be something like a pyramid scheme. And then you’re going to ask “Why?” (After all. the question appeared open to you. We’re happy to leave Moore’s question open with regard to some moral principles on the implicit assumption that out there somewhere there is some more complicated story to tell about what will close it.) And then the synthetic naturalist is going to assert that anything that has this property is wrong.

” It would be 128 . After all. we shouldn’t expect the process of moral inquiry to ever end. have to throw up your hands and say. If synthetic naturalism’s great failure is that it always leaves us asking more questions. Perhaps your question has no answer. end up explaining the fundamental laws of physics as we understand them. but rather that it will inevitably leave us with unanswerable questions which look like questions that should have answers. One might object that we are holding synthetic naturalism to an unfairly high standard. You explain that the sun’s heat caused it to evaporate. at that point. Suppose someone asks why the water that was in the pan on the deck disappeared. And if that person asks you why the laws of physics are the way they are you would. if you were so inclined. that this is simply another round of unreasonable skepticism. And you might say something about nuclear fusion taking place in the Sun’s core. And then this person might then ask you why nuclear fusion takes place under those conditions. And then that person might ask you why the Sun is hot. Maybe they just are the way they are. Such is the mark of a healthy discipline. Consider the following two dialogues. one might say.property and a value-neutral property and a desire to understand why that connection holds. And in response you might. “I don’t know why those laws are the actual laws. what’s so terrible about that? The problem with synthetic naturalism is not that it will always leave us with unanswered questions. New answers always spawn new questions.

she asks. And then she asks why it’s wrong to treat someone as a means only. All such dialogues have to 129 . And then she asks why it’s got to be wrong to do something of which we would disapprove if we were fully informed and fully rational. it makes me feel cheated. Still. that someone who was fully informed and fully rational could disapprove of something that was not wrong? And then you simply say. She asks you why lying is wrong. Of course. “No. That’s just the way it is. and perhaps the way I told it isn’t the most plausible way. this dialogue could have played out in any number of ways. You say that it’s wrong because to lie is to treat someone as a means only. (At least.) The fact that it ends with such an unsatisfying “because I said so” tends to undermine whatever merit there might have been in the answers that were given along the way.nice to be able to say more.” The ending of the first dialogue is not entirely satisfying—one would like to know more—but at the same time it doesn’t make one feel cheated. An act is wrong if it’s something of which we would disapprove if we were fully informed and fully rational. Someone asks why. but we all agree that the fact that at some point our physical explanations come to an end is no cause for skepticism about physics. the point remains that no matter how it’s told the ending is going to be the same in terms of what’s bothering us. Don’t ask me why because there is no further reason. You say because it’s a lie. Isn’t it possible. And then you say that it’s wrong because doing so is something of which we would disapprove if we were fully informed and fully rational. You say that some act is wrong. Now consider the moral version. Whereas the ending of the second dialogue does make one feel cheated.

subject matter.3 Mathematics and Consciousness: Synthetic Naturalism’s Partners in Innocence? A standard response to any kind of local skepticism is to argue that it’s not so local. that the arguments used to raise doubts about the present subject matter could just as easily be used to raise doubts about some other.5. Might this claim be analytic. presumably legitimate. Some mathematical nominalists would argue that this claim states a highly general contingent fact and that it is made true by how the world happens to be. “So that’s it?” Synthetic naturalism is implausible not because the explanations it can support have to come to an end. 2. We might wonder what makes this claim true. but rather because its explanations will inevitably come to a disappointing end.end with some kind of baldly asserted moral principle that leaves one asking. that is not the standard view. Such a response is open to the synthetic naturalist. she might argue that the skeptical arguments made above could just as easily be used to raise doubts about the existence of mathematical facts and facts about consciousness. is not the standard view. That however. Most notably. Most philosophers take mathematical truths to be true necessarily. and we shouldn’t assume that they’re wrong. true by dint of meaning? Again. Mathematical truths are typically taken to be 130 . Consider the claim that five plus seven equals twelve.

Ultimately. one that derives this claim from some set of premises. but rather because it seems to me correct on independent grounds. So what makes this claim. what does this say about the argument given above against moral realism? One way out. one according to which mathematical facts reduce to some kind of physical and/or mental facts. (I favor this option. the way I favor. not because it strengthens the case against moral realism. I would attempt to distinguish the mathematical case from the moral case via a modest appeal to Mackie’s (1977) argument from relativity.synthetic. The fact that people from markedly different cultural backgrounds agree so readily about which mathematical claims are and are not true suggests very strongly that there is a fact of the matter about which of them are or are not true. and for which we have no further explanation concerning what makes them true. true? We could offer a proof. we’d end up with a bunch of premises about which we might wonder what makes them true. spelled doom for synthetic naturalism. we’d end up with a bunch of axioms that are not analytic (or so the history of 20th Century analytic philosophy suggests). lies in a nominalist theory of mathematics. however. and this would happen no matter how many proofs we gave. which is plausibly taken to be synthetic and necessary. The fact that there is a 131 . that are supposed to be necessarily true. That is. Such a proof might count as a good explanation of what makes this claim true. according to the foregoing discussion. This situation is remarkably similar to the one which.) Failing a nominalist treatment of mathematics. but in taking that approach we would end up back where we started. Must we also conclude that mathematical facts are doomed? If so.

” It’s plausible enough that some mental states. the alleged parallel with mathematics is a red herring. but it does mean that “mathematical realism” has a point in its favor that moral realism does not. I find them implausible because they connect value-neutral and evaluative properties in the absence of any possible explanation for why those properties are so connected. I don’t find the fundamental principles that synthetic naturalism requires implausible simply because they are supposed to be synthetic. At the end of the day. “psycho-physical bridge laws. I suggest that we judge moral synthetic naturalism on its own merits. however. which means that there must be principles that explain which brain states go with which mental states. Then there’s the issue of consciousness. Either you react to the possibility of such principles with skepticism or you don’t. and whether or not you do probably has little to do with your views concerning the foundations of mathematics. I suspect. Their circumstances are not identical.considerable degree of disagreement among moralists doesn’t mean that there are no moral facts. Nor. Insofar as that’s the case. It is. cannot be analyzed in terms of physical states. If 132 . a side issue at best. I doubt that any synthetic naturalists would be inclined to give up on moral realism were they to become convinced that nominalism in the philosophy of mathematics was true. especially those that fall under the heading of qualia. Mental states are supposed to supervene on physical states. would any moral skeptics change their minds about moral realism as the result of our reaching different conclusions concerning the foundations of mathematics. and necessarily true. fundamental. I think.

I would begin. I 40 I confess that I’m not entirely sure what I mean when I say this. and brutely true. then the psycho-physical bridge laws must be synthetic. will be fundamental. to my mind. in a sense. the argument given above does speak in favor of skepticism about consciousness.) However. It’s also plausible that the psycho-physical bridge laws are true necessarily. 133 . Does the argument made above concerning the implausibility of synthetic.that’s right. some of them at least. however. too. This means that there may well have to be a set of principles that are synthetic. and necessarily true moral principles speak equally well against the plausibility of facts about consciousness? Here. 1995). I would emphasize certain differences between the two cases. but if it turns out that there is no such explanation. Furthermore. that which poses the “hard problem” (Chalmers. in the case of facts about consciousness there is an even stronger argument in their favor. While I’m left with no choice but to believe. it’s plausible that the psycho-physical bridge laws. by acknowledging that. it does strike me as strange that some brain states should give rise to some states of consciousness without there being any further explanation for why those brain states go with those states of consciousness. even it’s one we humans are incapable of grasping. I like to think that there is some explanation for why the psycho-physical bridge laws are as they are. fundamental. Consciousness is. very mysterious. and I doubt that I would believe in it were I not conscious myself!40 (Here I refer to phenomenal consciousness. namely the quasi-Cartesian argument to the effect that I cannot coherently doubt my own consciousness. necessary.

don’t see what choice I have other than to simply accept that that’s the way it is.41 There is no comparable research program underway in ethics. mysterious but undeniable. we’ve not considered views that reject naturalism. for example.6 Non-Naturalism So far we have considered and rejected analytic naturalism and synthetic naturalism. Moore (1959) according to which moral properties are metaphysically special non-natural properties. The fact that a good argument against the reality of consciousness can be countered by an even better argument doesn’t mean that the same good argument can’t be made in a different domain with greater success. The supervenience of the moral on the value-neutral is just plain mysterious. E. 2. 134 . I’ve made no serious attempt to take on traditional religious meta-ethical views according to which God plays an essential 41 The study of the neural correlates of consciousness is booming. in some cases. While this exhausts moral realism’s naturalistic incarnations. The supervenience of the mental on the physical is. It is also worth noting that the psycho-physical bridge laws and the nature of the supervenience of the of the mental of the physical are amenable to empirical investigation in a fairly straightforward way. the view held by G. For recent attempts at neurologically based theories of consciousness see Damasio (1999) and Llinas (2001). Similarly.

role in the determination of moral facts. upon on seeing where my arguments have led. and the like. Platonic forms.7 Summary and Conclusion Moral realists who remain unmoved by my arguments will likely respond to them in one of two ways. which are fine so far as they go. may wish to reject them on the grounds that they depend on dubious metaphysical assumptions that have been smuggled in under the cover of naturalism. amounted to little more than a refusal to take seriously those views that invoke God. Such critics might say something like this: 135 . will claim that the entire project is misguided and that my arguments. but mostly because I have little to offer in the way of convincing arguments to those whose inclinations are otherwise. My commitment to naturalism has. This is in part because I find that I cannot take such views seriously myself. however. Some will make their rejoinders in the form of particular objections to particular steps in my arguments. my commitment to naturalism has played virtually no role in the arguments that I’ve made against those views. While my commitment to naturalism has played an important role in restricting my targets to views that are naturalistic. but it is worth noting if only because some readers. 2. Surely this comes as no surprise. Others. Moorean non-natural properties. for the purposes of this essay. I do not believe that this is the case. demonstrate nothing more than that a certain metaphysically ambitious brand of moral realism is mistaken.

To the self-described moral skeptic who refuses to acknowledge this basic fact of human existence. one that employs certain standards for the evaluation of actions. and if one insists on treating it as if it were a theoretical enterprise on a par with chemistry.” It’s not about finding out how things are. And—more to the point—it is not the point of view most pertinent to the moral enterprise. From the point of view of science. but about deciding what one ought to do. It is fundamentally and irreducibly practical. though 136 . “Is it true?” but rather “Can I. the question is not. morality is a wash. standards which. A life may be described from the point of view of natural science.Ethics is not about discovering “moral facts” and “moral properties. a human life—must be lived from within the moral point of view. first and foremost. is not the only point of view. one is bound to be disappointed. but there is another kind of moral realism. there can be no answer. accept such a principle as a guide to action?” One answers such a question not by undertaking a search for facts that might correspond to such a principle. but by engaging in a process of reflection. and that is all your arguments show. It is an ethics of reasons not facts. equally deserving of the name. against which your arguments fall flat. When presented with a principle for action. Moral Realism with a capital “R” may be hopeless. but the scientific point of view. useful though it may be. but a life—that is. as one rational agent among many.

Nowhere have I insisted that such principles have to be made true by the existence of physical objects or. the property of being wrong).” “properties” and “supervenience. to some. the property of being unable to survive a certain kind of rational reflection) goes with this moral property (say.”—words that. have authority for those who have adopted the moral point of view…. At the end of the day. Moral realists are free to respond to this request by telling a story that characterizes right and wrong in terms of what sorts of reasons we have for acting and which of these reasons are capable of surviving certain kinds of rational reflection. metaphysical objects. worse yet.42 While I have presented my arguments using words like “facts.not scientific. in each case. Is the claim that connects these properties supposed to be analytic? If 42 The point of view expressed in this passage is similar to that of Korsgaard (1996). 137 .” (or more sophisticated variants thereof) are true.” sensibility theorists. and so on. “Cornell realists. such stories are presented the metaphysical question will still be there: What makes that story true? What makes it the case that this value- neutral property (say. I’ve only insisted that there be some story to tell about what makes such principles true. and virtue ethicists included) want to say that moral principles such as “Lying is wrong. positively reek of “scientism”—the arguments I’ve presented cannot be brushed aside so easily.) When. (This is the approach taken by Smith. all moral realists (sophisticated practical reason theorists.

this question cannot have a satisfactory answer. just as “What makes my scientific beliefs true?” is a legitimate question from within the scientific point of view. that this basic question about the nature of morality has a satisfactory answer. I’ve offered reasons for thinking that. there are problems. and if I’m right then we have discovered a problem with moral realism from within the moral point of view. Synthetic? If so. It’s not as if we’ve refused to hear what moralists have to say about the nature of their enterprise and then—Lo and behold!—discovered that moral realism is false. there are problems. My question is not “Why should I care about being moral?” posed from the point of view of someone who shows no interest in doing so. One need not be a committed moral skeptic to think that there must be some story to tell about 138 . The moral version demands an answer as well. Ordinarily we simply assume. simply a matter of stylistic preference. Conceiving of ethics as an investigation of “practical reason” rather than a search for “moral facts” is. so far as my arguments are concerned. even if the same answer will not do. contrary to common sense. my critique of moral realism is an internal one. I would like to emphasize the fact that my case against moral realism does not depend on a refusal to acknowledge the moral point of view. “Correspondence to physical fact” is a plausible answer to the scientific version of this question. even if moral realism is true.” Rather. might be “nothing” or “nothing so far as your self-interest is concerned. It’s not a matter of “What’s in it for me?” a question to which the answer. “What makes my moral beliefs true?” is a legitimate question from within the moral point of view. if only implicitly.so.

given the supervenience of the moral on the value-neutral. both 139 . We concluded early on that moral realism requires the existence of true moral principles. Next we examined some attempts at analytic naturalism. We also noted that. we concluded that some of these necessarily true moral principles must be brutely true or fundamental. We noted that all moral principles can be divided into analytic and synthetic moral principles. We noted that all moral principles can be divided into general and specific moral principles and concluded that the fundamental moral principles cannot be specific. We found that such views inevitably distorted the meanings of moral terms. Let us take a moment to summarize the argument presented in this chapter. often building into them unacceptably rationalistic or relativistic commitments. Finally we considered synthetic general moral principles. Next. and one can conclude that there are deep problems with all such stories without restricting one’s attention to stories about the nature of the physical world. Moore’s open question argument demonstrates that direct and general analytic moral principles are implausible. claims that ascribe moral properties to things in virtue of their valueneutral properties. Moral skepticism. is a natural reaction to a sincere attempt to make sense of morality on its own terms. some of these principles must be necessarily true. I claim.what makes ordinary moral beliefs true. as well as into direct and indirect moral principles. since it’s doubtful that we could explain the truth of the necessary moral principles as a whole in terms of contingent truths and/or nonmoral necessary truths. theories that rely on indirect and general analytic moral principles.

” etc. I don’t think that any of them is crazy. And yet somehow. In focusing one’s attention on any part of this image. every splash of water. While many of these assertions are debatable. the above argument is not without loose ends. Thus we eliminated each of the possible types of fundamental. In life outside philosophy. synthetic naturalism. leaving us with the surprising conclusion that there are no true moral principles and that moral realism is false. How did this come to pass? The Dutch artist M. too. we’re given little incentive to step back from the totality of our first order moral beliefs so that we 140 . Escher is known for his captivating renderings of impossible objects. with moral realism. inevitably leaves us with unanswerable questions that look like questions that should have answers. Regrettably. It is only when one steps back to consider the image as a whole that its impossibility becomes apparent. one is left with the rather extreme conclusion that moral realism is false and that there is no fact of the matter concerning what’s right and what’s wrong. through one of Escher’s trademark visual twists. one finds nothing to offend the eye. Every piece of stone. manages to deposit its load at its source. when one puts them all together. among them his Waterfall which depicts a downwardly zigzagging aqueduct that.” “plausible.direct and indirect. or even terribly extreme. At many points its progress depends on my making bald assertions concerning what seems “reasonable. C. So. necessarily true moral principles. flows seamlessly into the next without the slightest hint of absurdity. and concluded that this approach.” “mysterious.

141 . very much a part of common sense. to build a case against moral realism. may be thoughtfully considered. but these efforts. In the next chapter we will consider a positive account of the phenomenon of morality. help us understand why moral realism is so compelling in spite of the fact that it’s false and. This account will. lay the groundwork for my case against revisionism. 1978) and that today draws support from a large and growing body of scientific evidence. the seeds of which were sown centuries ago by David Hume (1960. All the same. it is only through such a process of stepping back that the problems with moral realism become apparent. I imagine. those that we are ordinarily inclined to take for granted. but rather to put certain aspects of the moral point of view to one side so that other aspects. 43 To step away from one’s first order moral beliefs in this way is not to abandon the moral point of view. first. second. and common sense beliefs tend to fare well against technical and esoteric philosophical arguments. Moral realism is. My hope is that even readers who remain unconvinced by the arguments of this chapter will at the very least acknowledge that moral skepticism is a reasonable response to a challenging metaphysical puzzle and a position the consequences of which are worth exploring. to be presented in Chapter 4. And.might evaluate our implicit assumptions concerning the nature of moral truth. yet. I will assume for the remainder of this essay that moral realism is false. The aim of this chapter has been entirely negative. will fail to convince many readers.43 In this chapter I’ve attempted to bring these problems into focus. as I’ve said.

or. In my opinion. Here I make a case for projectivism. at any rate. To become comfortable with the fact that moral realism is false we need to understand how moral realism can be so wrong but feel so right. in spite of common sense.” (2001). This raises an important question: How is it that so many people are mistaken about the nature of morality? We should be wary of any philosophical view according to which most people are profoundly mistaken about an important aspect of ordinary life. To that end. we turn to moral psychology. “The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail: A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral Judgment. In the previous chapter I made a case for antirealism.Chapter 3 Moral Psychology and Projective Error In the previous chapter we concluded. a picture of moral psychology that is broadly projectivist in flavor. Most of the empirical results discussed in this chapter are mentioned in Haidt’s paper.” described in detail in a paper entitled. and to avoid 142 . but has gained widespread acceptance among experimental psychologists only in recent decades. that moral realism is false. and in so doing we will lay the groundwork for Part II in which we’ll address the practical questions that are the ultimate subject of this essay. the most complete and philosophically useful elaboration of this picture is in Jonathan Haidt’s “social intuitionist model. This picture has been evolving since Hume’s time.

and 3.2) and.6 are drawn primarily from Haidt’s discussion in which he defends his social intuitionist model against more traditional.4 I build on the material presented in Sections 3. rationalist theories of moral psychology.3 along with familiar ideas from cognitive science and evolutionary theory in an attempt to answer the main question with which this chapter is concerned: “Why does moral realism appear to be true even though it’s false?” The material presented in Sections 3.3). Why does it have a perceptual phenomenology? Because it is “easy” (Section 3.3. more specifically.e. a conclusion which tends toward a limited sort of revisionism at the very least.4). because it is something we do intuitively (Section 3. Nevertheless.4). i.redundancy I will in each of these cases cite Haidt’s source rather than Haidt himself. 3.4 in order to provide a firmer footing for the latter discussion. Haidt does not necessarily endorse the metaphysical picture for which I argue. Sections 3. In Section 3.2 and 3. 143 . provide crucial background information for subsequent chapters.2 and 3. and I’ve chosen to present it in advance of the more speculative and theoretical material in Section 3. 3. concerned with moral development and the illusion of rationalist psychology respectively.5.2.3 is for the most part empirical. Sections 3. although he does argue that common sense moral psychology is typically mistaken. emotionally (Section 3.6. Nor does he argue for the revision of our moral thought and practices.5 and 3. the argument advanced in these three sections is usefully summarized with a bit of rearranging: Why does moral realism appear to be true? Because moral experience has a perceptual phenomenology (Section 3.

but such considerations do not by themselves make for an adequate case against moral realism. but I maintain that this amounts to giving up on realism. at least not in any straightforward way.1 But many people’s interest in morality is not primarily explanatory. and this provides some people with adequate reason to give up on moral facts. An injection of psychological/evolutionary considerations does.The case for anti-realism advanced in Chapter 2 was grounded in characteristically philosophical or metaphysical considerations rather than in the sorts of psychological and evolutionary considerations that will be discussed in this chapter. but they tell us nothing about the existence or absence of objective oughts. (See Section 2. What these scientific considerations suggest is that moral experience can be explained without appeal to moral facts. “So what? That doesn’t mean there’s no fact of the matter about what’s right or wrong. and as a result there will naturally be those who. I believe. push people in the direction of anti-realism. but arguments based on such considerations alone do not settle the meta-ethical question. The evolutionary/psychological picture is highly suggestive of anti-realism. when confronted with evolutionary/psychological explanations of moral phenomena. They tell us what is.4) 144 .” And they’re correct. say.4. 1996) argues that considerations such as these give us reason to give up on absolute/non-relative moral facts rather than moral facts simpliciter. In the previous chapter I attempted to get at the heart of the meta-ethical matter by focusing on what I take to be the central meta-ethical question: What could make moral claims true? I came up empty handed after a rather laborious 1 Harman (1977.

to be discussed in Chapter 4.1 Projectivism Blackburn describes projectivism and identifies Hume (1960. the philosophical arguments given in the previous chapter would be enough to convince people that realism is false. in the way that the niceness of an ice cream answers to the pleasure it gives us (1993a. projectivism. 145 . I have in mind two sources. one relatively familiar and one new. 3. 1978) as its canonical proponent: Let us call the Humean picture of the nature of morality. The first and more familiar source is the emerging empirical picture of moral psychology that is the subject of this chapter.search through the space of possible answers and concluded that realism is false. On this view we have sentiments and other reactions caused by the natural features of things. pg. 152). and we ‘gild or stain’ the world by describing it as if it contained features answering to these sentiments. In a more reasonable world. The second and unfamiliar source is a novel appreciation of the practical advantages of transparently anti-realist moral practices. and the metaphysics of the issue. In our world. however. the most forceful considerations are likely to come from elsewhere.

g.g. 171). 14.) 146 . moral wrongness) are mind-dependent in a way that other properties. as 2 See Hume (1878. are not. solubility in water). iii. But. I. know about. say projectivists.Suppose that we say we project an attitude or habit or other commitment which is not descriptive onto the world. projectivists maintain that our judgments of right and wrong depend crucially on our emotional or affective responses (or. Realist projectivists maintain a form of subjectivist realism while non-cognitivists and error theorists favor projectivist anti-realism. More specifically. pg. Projecting is what Hume referred to when he talks of ‘gilding and staining all natural objects with the colours borrowed from internal sentiment’ or of the mind ‘spreading itself on the world. which we can reason about. The central tenet of projectivism is that the moral properties we find (or think we find) in things in the world (e.2 Projectivism is a cluster of closely related theses that comes in two main forms depending on the meta-ethical view to which it is attached. and so on. Whether or not something is soluble in water has nothing to do with human psychology.’ (1984. when we speak and think as though there were a property of things which our sayings describe. whether or not something is wrong (or “wrong”) has everything to do with human psychology. those that we’ve called “value-neutral” (e. be wrong about.

but not dependent on our emotional responses. For example.” in a way that they. at the very least. like vampires. on our “sentiments” or “passions”). namely 3 Other. and likewise for other moral properties. 147 . in determining whether or not moral properties are. unlike typical valueneutral properties. (More about projectivism and realism in Section 3. given certain reasonable assumptions. non-moral forms of projectivism.) Projectivists who conclude that realism and projectivism are incompatible face a further question. that vampirehood is more demanding and that therefore. Whether or not a certain kind of things exists depends on the criteria a thing must meet in order to count as a thing of that kind. Jackson. The projectivist’s claim that moral phenomenology is misleading in this way raises a metaphysical question about the existence of moral properties and the truth of moral realism. we projectivists must consider whether or not projected wrongness can be genuine wrongness. are not. vampires do not exist. They appear to be really “out there. Likewise.3 Finally projectivists maintain that our encounters with the moral world are. typically assert that the properties with which they are concerned are minddependent. somewhat misleading. most notably projectivism about color. however. fictitious. Most of us would agree. One might conclude that realism and projectivism are compatible. and Lewis—too much mind-dependence. Projected properties tend to strike us as unprojected.4. a view I reject for roughly the same reasons I reject the views of Smith. if being a vampire requires nothing more than being a person who drinks blood then vampires almost certainly exist.Hume would say.

1952. 1993a) claims that it isn’t. Ayer. Most people speak and think as if their moral judgments state facts about which things possess which moral properties. Gibbard. and practices. For now let us simply note that accepting projectivism.whether or not projectivism is compatible with our ordinary moral thought. I maintain that the existing research on moral psychology overwhelmingly favors the acceptance of projectivism in some form or other. a sophisticated offshoot of traditional non-cognitivism (Stevenson. Hare. 1990). Is it a mistake to go on doing this once we’ve accepted projectivism and rejected realism? Blackburn (1984. discourse. I discuss this research in the next two sections. a position I call revisionism. Projectivism predates the rise of psychology as an experimental science. Many projectivists have embraced anti-realism. In contrast. Richard Joyce (2001) adopts a similar position in his defense of fictionalism. I will assess the relative merits of these views and others in Chapter 4. 1944. in addition to committing one to the aforementioned psychological theses. forces one to confront both anti-realism and revisionism. but it is nonetheless a psychological thesis and one to be accepted or rejected on the basis of empirical research. 1952. I recommend that we change the way we think and talk about morality. but very few have embraced revisionism. 148 . a claim he defends under the rubric of quasi-realism.

rationalist models of the kind proposed by earlier theorists and implicitly suggested by folk moral psychology take even “snap” moral judgments to be the products of reasoning. ex-post facto moral reasoning….6). effortlessly. 2001. moral psychology was dominated by rationalist models of moral judgment according to which moral judgments are primarily the products of reasoning and reflection (Haidt. The most important distinctions are that intuition occurs quickly.4 A large and growing body of research suggests that rationalist models are incorrect and that they should be replaced with what Jonathan Haidt calls a “social intuitionist model. requires some effort. 817-8). while reasoning occurs more slowly.3. The words “intuition” and “reasoning” are intended to capture the contrast made by dozens of philosophers and psychologists between two kinds of cognition. such that the outcome but not the process is accessible to consciousness.2 Moral Intuition and Moral Reasoning Until recently. 149 . and automatically. 816).” one according to which moral judgments are primarily the products of immediate intuitive responses rather than episodes of reasoning: The central claim of the social intuitionist model is that moral judgment is caused by quick moral intuitions. 4 As we’ll see later (Section 3. and is followed (when needed) by slow. pg. and involves at least some steps that are accessible to consciousness (Pp.

While I am all in favor of giving intuition its due. thus drawing the relevant distinction as one between intuition and reasoning rather than between intuitive reasoning and some other form of reasoning. Part I) in his seminal discussion of reason and its role in moral thought. They both enjoy making love but decide not to do it again. At the very least it would be a new experience for each of them. They are travelling together in France on summer vacation from college.” is not the only one available. One might adopt any number of more inclusive characterizations of reasoning.I should emphasize that the above characterization of “reasoning. They keep that night as a special secret 150 . Julie was already taking birth control pills. and people who wish to promote greater respect for intuitive thought may therefore wish to characterize intuition as a form of reasoning.g. They decided that it would be interesting and fun if they tried making love. just to be safe. In the Western intellectual tradition. Book III. as described above) is an instance of reasoning. I do this in part because I believe that Haidt’s terminology is appropriately similar to the terminology employed by Hume (1978. The respective roles of intuition and reasoning are illuminated by considering people’s reactions to the following story. I will nevertheless proceed using Haidt’s terminology. Julie and Mark are brother and sister. reasoning is generally held in high esteem. intuition. but Mark uses a condom too. One night they are staying alone in a cabin near the beach. including ones according to which any mental process that produces a judgment (e.

5 Eventually many people say something like “I don’t know. 151 .between them. immediate. and they then set about searching for reasons. was it OK for them to make love? (Haidt. pg. 2000) Haidt (2001. and in so doing it reveals something about moral psychology. namely harm to self or others. Bjorklund. What do you think about that. only to remember that Julie and Mark used two forms of birth control.” This moral question is carefully designed to short-circuit the most common reason people give for judging an action to be wrong. but it does nevertheless seem to be the case that subjects’ intuitions about the wrongness of Julie and Mark’s actions are more immediate and confident than whatever judgments subjects tend to make about the possibility of harm. They next try to argue that Julie and Mark could be hurt. at least as it operates in cases such at these. I just know it’s wrong. I can’t explain it. 814) describes people’s responses to this story as follows: Most people who hear the above story immediately say that it was wrong for the siblings to make love. even though the story makes it clear that no harm befell them. People’s moral judgments in response to the above story tend to be forceful. and Murphy. which makes them feel even closer to each other. and produced by an unconscious 5 One might take issue with this claim. They point out the dangers of inbreeding.

suggesting that the reasons they gave after the fact in support their judgments had little to do with the process that produced those judgments. when asked about whether or not it is okay to clean a toilet with the national flag. subjects typically gave reasons. 152 . Bjorklund. When asked to explain why they judged as they did. Haidt notes that subjects who have condemned a victimless action as immoral often set out to find a victim. the judgment comes first while the reasons for that judgment are made up afterwards. For example. subjects typically stood by their judgments all the same. the very existence of moral dumbfounding indicates that.” (Haidt. Upon recognizing the flaws in those reasons. As Haidt points out.” which is defined as “the stubborn and puzzled maintenance of a judgment in the absence of supporting reasons. 814). pg. one becomes a lawyer trying to build a case rather than a judge searching for the truth.” (2001. Such efforts are instances of a more general phenomenon that Haidt calls “moral dumbfounding.process (intuition) rather than through the deliberate and effortful application of moral principles (reasoning). many people who said that this action was wrong supported their judgment by claiming that this action might prove harmful to the agent. at least in some cases. sometimes attempting to change the facts of the story in order to create one. 2000). “When faced with a social demand for a verbal justification. and Murphy. Under ordinary circumstances reasoning comes into play after the judgment has already been reached in order to find rational support for the preordained judgment.

3) and described explicitly elsewhere by Thomson (1990) and by John Rawls (1971). the picture of moral judgment as an intuitive process is part of a more general pattern observed by social psychologists. This sort of moral theorizing is well exemplified by Judith Jarvis Thomson in her classic treatment of “The Trolley Problem”7 (more on the Trolley Problem in Section 3. 819) explains that. To begin. For all we’ve said here. 153 .”6 Moreover. Linguist George Lakoff (1996) argues that the political differences between conservatives and liberals (differences over issues such as abortion. There are. the claim that moral judgments are made primarily on the basis of moral intuition should ring true to students of contemporary ethics. “The emerging view in social cognition is that most of our behaviors and judgments are in fact made automatically (i. with the primary difference lying in the fact that for ethicists the “data” are moral intuitions rather than observed facts. without intention. Haidt (2001. but not about moral psychology in general. See “The Trolley Problem” in Thomson (1986). B. or awareness of process). it’s possible that most moral judgments are caused by moral reasoning and that only moral judgments with respect to a few isolated topics are produced by intuition.e. Ethical theorists often compare their enterprise to the scientific enterprise of fitting theory to data. however. pg. 6 7 See also R.Are these isolated phenomena? Perhaps people’s responses to stories such as these tell us about the psychology of sexual taboo violation. effort. good reasons to think that this is not the case. Zajonc (1984).

the language they use to describe and defend their positions.” and that when judgments are made on the basis of what we call “common sense” they are usually products of complex and unconscious cognitive processes (Pg. capital punishment. if your aim is to breed opposition to American Gulf War policy. but rather to compare Saddam Hussein to Hitler. and affirmative action) are manifestations of deep differences in peoples’ moral worldviews.welfare reform. and “just common sense” to a conservative strikes a liberal as ludicrous. reasonable. an unacceptably bloody and costly endeavor (Haidt. and the difficulties 154 . Lakoff offers a complex cognitive model of liberal and conservative thought by which he attempts to make sense of the clusters of positions these two groups hold. According to Lakoff. 2001. He argues that moral judgments are more often formed as a result of metaphorical thought than as a result of reasoning and that getting someone to agree with you is more often a matter of getting her to “see things your way” than one of pointing out potential flaws in that person’s (alleged) reasoning or assumptions. Lakoff points out that. nothing is “just common sense. 4). 825). For example. Likewise. a madman who must be stopped. you would be wise to compare that conflict to the Vietnam War. and vice versa. the maintenance of different worldviews by liberals and conservatives allows them to “see” the world differently from one another such that what is obviously correct. your best bet would not be to reason about the costs and benefits of doing so or about abstract principles which might determine when one should or should not get involved in such conflicts. pg. from the point of view of cognitive science. to convince someone that we were right to have entered the Gulf War.

the avoidance of conflicts. and negotiation (de Waal. according to Lakoff. special treatment of the disabled and injured.people on opposite sides of the political spectrum have in communicating with one another. trading. however. It 8 See also Wright (1994). 211). do not make moral (or proto-moral) judgments by means of effortful and deliberate reasoning involving a series of introspectively accessible steps. Frans de Waal cites the prevalence of sympathy-related traits such as attachment. Further support for the idea that moral judgment is largely intuitive comes from research in primatology. The details of Lakoff’s model. It’s much closer to the truth (if not perfectly accurate) to say that sophisticated non-human primates such as chimpanzees produce their moral judgments intuitively. Human morality appears to be an outgrowth of primate morality. community concern. as far as anyone can tell. and revenge as well as moralistic aggression against violators of reciprocity rules. norm-related characteristics such as the following of prescriptive social-rules.8 But primates. internalization of rules. emotional contagion. In summarizing the moral (or proto-moral) tendencies and capacities of non-human primates. 155 . 1996. though fascinating. an understanding of reciprocity exhibited in concepts of giving. and cognitive empathy (the ability to trade places mentally with others). generally produced by intuition rather than reasoning. pg. and characteristics related to the maintenance of community life such as peace-making. and anticipation of punishment. that moral and political judgments are. once again. need not concern us here. The take-home point for our purposes is.

156 . Moral intuition shares a number of features with other kinds of intuition such as these. for the most part. 3. 1994) and physical intuitions (McCloskey. Our intuitive ability to determine whether or not a sentence is grammatical or where a falling object is likely to land 9 Or. For any reasoning one might go through. for example. and primatology suggests that moral judgments are. intuitive judgments. 1983).3 Emotion and Moral Judgment Recent work in psychology. the best argument in favor of embracing the social intuitionist model as a general model of moral psychology may come from research on the relationship between emotion and moral judgment. Reasoning in the sense defined above is not emotional. But what kind of intuitive judgments are they? After all. when it is emotional it is only emotional incidentally. rather. a relationship that is both very tight and very general. linguistic intuitions (Pinker. one could go through that reasoning in an unemotional way. but it is different in at least one crucial respect. cognitive science.seems unlikely that the psychological mechanisms at work in human morality should be radically different from those that play a strikingly similar role in the social lives of our closest relatives. we humans—well adapted creatures that we are—have intuitions about a wide variety of things.9 With this in mind.

had the profound but remarkably selective effect that it had. but it was soon apparent that Gage’s mind had been compromised by his accident. he became lawless. 34-51) 10 The advent of brain imaging has provided further converging evidence for the hypothesis. on “sentiment. pp. After the accident. making trouble wherever he went. Our moral intuitions. Raine et al (2000) 157 . on the other hand. that the prefrontal cortex plays a special role in the regulation of moral and social behavior. 3-9). Doctors at the time did not understand why Gage’s lesion. at the time he appeared to have emerged with all of his mental capacities intact. current research on emotion and its relation to moral and social behavior suggest that it may not be at all far from the truth. suggested long ago by Gage’s case. as a result of an accidental explosion. or.does not appear to depend on our emotional capacities. a Nineteenth Century railroad worker who. While that may be something of an overstatement. to use Hume’s term. Consider the famous case of Phineas Gage.10 Antonio Damasio (1994. After a two-month recuperation period Gage was pronounced cured. More recent cases of patients with similar lesions have shed light on Gage’s injury. which was primarily to the ventromedial portion of his frontal lobes. Gage not only survived the accident. unable to hold down a steady job due to his anti-social behavior. pp. Before the accident he was admired by his colleagues for his industriousness and good character.” One might even go so far as to say that. as a general rule. passed a three-foot iron rod through the front of his brain (Damasio. 1994. He wandered around. appear to depend crucially on our emotional capacities. moral intuitions are emotional responses.

Like Gage. They asked him. He scored above average on standard intelligence tests. exhibited decreased metabolic activity in the prefrontal cortex. he. like Gage’s. exhibited certain peculiar deficits. as compared to normal subjects. and responded normally to standard tests of personality. whether or not he would steal if he needed money and to explain why or why not. his behavior. Elliot maintained his ability to speak and reason about topics such as politics and economics. Intrigued by these reports. Damasio and his colleagues employed a series of tests designed to assess the effects of Elliot’s damage on his decision-making skills. for example. was not unaffected by his condition. too. A simple laboratory probe helped reveal the subtle but dramatic nature of Elliot’s deficits. 158 . Damasio and Saver followed up this test with a series of five tests of found that individuals with antisocial personality disorder have. citing the usual reasons for why one shouldn’t commit such crimes (Pg. However. When shown pictures of gory accidents or people about to drown in floods. eleven percent less prefrontal gray matter than control subjects. particularly in the social domain. Elliot reported having no emotional response but commented that he knew that he used to have strong emotional responses to such things. on average. including some designed to detect frontal lobe damage.reports on a patient named “Elliot” who suffered a brain tumor in roughly the same region that was destroyed in Gage’s case. 46). a brain-imaging technique) Raine et al (1994) found that murderers. In an earlier study using positron emission tomography (PET. His answers were like those of other people. While Elliot did not develop anti-social tendencies to the extent that Gage did.

had deteriorated rapidly as a result of his condition (although he did not seem to mind). Elliot performed normally or above average in each case. and emotional capacities on the other. but not to feel. a claim that would surprise many philosophers and (until recently) psychologists. “To know. suggesting a dissociation between “higher cognition” on the one hand and social.moral/social judgment (Saver and Damasio. In Gage we see a connection between ventromedial damage and anti-social behavior. 1991). The cases of Elliot and Gage are complementary. is the essence of Elliot’s predicament. and yet his personal life. In Elliot we see a connection between ventromedial damage and emotional deficits (which almost certainly were present in Gage as well). resulting in poor prudential and social decision-making. moral. As before.” says Damasio (Pg. like Gage’s. these cases suggest that moral behavior (and social behavior in general) depends crucially on emotional capacities. Both patients are without “intellectual” deficits. 45). Other cases provide dramatic support for this Humean picture of moral psychology. Taken together. In a study that included Elliot as well four other patients with similar brain damage and similar problems with social behavior. but not David Hume. Damasio and his colleagues found among these subjects a consistent failure to exhibit typical 159 . Damasio attributes Gage’s real-life failures not to his inability to reason (in the sense above) but to his inability to integrate emotional responses into his practical judgments. It became clear that Elliot’s explicit knowledge of social and moral conventions was as good or better than most people’s.

These two subjects do exhibit characteristically psychopathic behavior—lying. they are not “psychopaths. unlike the late onset patients. unlike the subjects with late-onset damage.” A more recent study (Anderson et al. and Damasio. though these patients responded normally to non-social. and lack of remorse after committing such violations—presumably because they.. A more recent study (Blair et al. stealing. emotionally arousing stimuli (Damasio. 1971). “The clinical and empirical picture of a psychopathic individual is of someone who has some form of emotional deficit. like the psychopaths... 160 .” (Blair et al.. 1990). violence. 1997).11 The study of “ordinary” psychopaths has proved illuminating as well. were serving life sentences for murder or 11 The early onset patients. showed deficits in their explicit knowledge of social and moral norms. According to Blair et al. 1999) concerns two subjects whose ventromedial cortices were damaged at an early age (three months and fifteen months). While the subjects in this study exhibit “sociopathic behavior” as a result of their injuries. 1997) compares the electrodermal responses of psychopaths to a control group of criminals who. Tranel.electrodermal responses (a standard indication of emotional arousal) when presented with socially significant stimuli. Anderson and colleagues suggest that this deficit may occur due to an ability to experience feelings necessary for the normal acquisition of explicit knowledge of moral and social norms. Psychopaths exhibit a lower level of tonic electrodermal activity and show weaker electrodermal responses to emotionally significant stimuli than normal individuals (Hare and Quinn. did not have the advantage of a lifetime of conditioning via normal emotional responses.

While the “normal” subjects (non-psychopathic incarcerated criminals) drew a general distinction between moral and conventional transgressions. “Moral” transgressions were defined as those having negative consequences for the “rights and welfare of others” and included instances of one child hitting another and a child smashing a piano. however.” Each of the 161 . they showed significantly reduced responses to distress cues (e. Normal subjects found a greater difference in permissibility and seriousness between moral and conventional transgressions than did the psychopaths. an image of a shark’s open mouth) and neutral stimuli (e. The most striking finding. a fact consistent with the observation that psychopathic individuals appear to have a diminished capacity for emotional empathy. concerned the psychopath’s judgments concerning “modifiability. as compared to other criminals.manslaughter. the psychopaths did not. “Conventional” transgressions were defined as “violations of the behavioral uniformities that structure social interactions within social systems” and included instances of a boy wearing a skirt and a child who leaves the classroom without permission. While the psychopaths were like the other criminals in their responses to threatening stimuli (e. Both of these predictions were confirmed.g.g. should make fewer references to the pain or discomfort of victims in explaining why certain harmful actions are unacceptable.g. an image of a crying child’s face) relative to the control criminals. an image of a book). Blair (1995) hypothesized that psychopaths’ diminished capacity for emotional empathy should prevent them from drawing a distinction between what he calls “moral” and “conventional” rules and that psychopaths.

Nevertheless. and in each case the subjects were asked whether or not it would be permissible for the child to perform the transgressive action if the teacher had said earlier that such actions were permitted.12 In addition. In attempting to assess the role of reason vis-à-vis emotion in the production of moral judgment and behavior. the psychopaths were. treated all transgressions as impermissible regardless of what the teacher says. he found that the psychopaths treated both types of transgressions as normal subjects treat moral ones. Psychopaths. however.” 162 .transgression stories were set in school. If moral reasoning is primarily responsible for the production of moral judgment and behavior. less likely to appeal to the pain and discomfort of victims and more likely to appeal to the violation of rules in explaining why various transgressions are impermissible. psychopaths provide crucial information. then we would expect those who exhibit diminished reasoning capacities to be the ones who make the most “moral 12 While Blair predicted that the psychopaths would fail to draw the moral/conventional distinction. Non-psychopathic criminals tended to say that the conventional transgressions would become permissible if the teacher were to explicitly allow their performance but that the moral transgressions would not be permissible in either case. he predicted more specifically that the psychopaths would treat both types of transgression as normal subjects treat conventional ones. as predicted. He attributes this result to the fact that his psychopathic subjects (all incarcerated) have an interest in demonstrating that they have “learned the rules.

Blair’s psychopaths. the study of society’s most recalcitrant moral offenders points to a very clear answer.mistakes.” Recent brain-imaging research conducted by myself and my collaborators (Greene et al. each social disasters in spite of their intact reasoning abilities. Damasio’s prefrontal patients. I noticed a puzzling pattern in people’s intuitive moral judgments concerning some of the hypothetical dilemmas discussed in Thomson’s paper. Part III. on the other hand. 2001) has shed some light on the role emotion plays in the moral judgment of normal adults. After participating in a number of discussions of Judith Jarvis Thomson’s classic paper. moral judgment and behavior are primarily the products of emotional response. In one such dilemma a runaway trolley is headed for five people who will be killed if it proceeds on its present course. Section iii) infamous claim that. “Trolley Problem. “‘Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger. then we would expect those with diminished emotional capacities (of the relevant kind) to exhibit the most morally abysmal behavior. While there can be no doubt that normal moral life is shaped by both reason and emotion. and the legendary Phineas Gage. their apparent emotional deficits lend equal support to Hume’s positive claim that the edifice of human morality rests on a foundation of “sentiment. vividly illustrate Hume’s (1978. Book II.” Likewise.” If.” (1986). The only way to save these people is to turn the trolley onto an alternate set of tracks where it will run over and kill one person instead of five. The question is whether or not it is morally acceptable to turn the trolley in order 163 .

Thomson considers these dilemmas and the intuitions they elicit as part of a puzzle for moral theorists: What makes it morally acceptable to sacrifice one life to save five in the original case but not in the footbridge case? Answering this question has proved surprisingly difficult. Most people say immediately that it is not.to save five people at the expense of one? Most people say immediately that it is. Kant (1993) says that one ought never treat someone as a “means only. he just happens to be in the way. a runaway trolley threatens to kill five people as before. but this time the agent is standing next to a large stranger on a footbridge running over the tracks. In another dilemma.13 which means that 13 The following example taken from Thomson’s discussion illustrates the point. but his body will stop the trolley from reaching the others.” With this in mind. it might occur to you that what distinguishes these two cases is that in the footbridge case one literally uses someone to save the others. a case just like the original one only this time the track with the one person on it loops around so that without that person there to block the trolley it would come back around and kill the five people you were trying to save. Consider. but they all run into trouble sooner or later. in between the oncoming trolley and the five people. The only way to save the five people is to push this stranger off the bridge and onto the tracks below. whereas in the original case one doesn’t use the other person. Here the question is whether or not it’s morally acceptable to save the five people by pushing this stranger to his death. He will die as a result of doing this. Many plausible answers have been proposed. In this variation on the original case you must use the other person to stop the 164 . then.

no one has found a set of principles that adequately captures people’s intuitions concerning these and other cases. In the most general terms.15 The train. 165 . if it has a solution. it seems to most people that it’s still okay to turn the trolley in this new case. While more sophisticated principles have been proposed. One can imagine cases in which hitting a switch would cause someone’s death in a way that is intuitively rather personal. as well as a means of testing it. I made the following more specific hypothesis: Pushing someone to his death with one’s bare hands is more personal than hitting a switch that will have similar consequences. See Pinker (1994). 14 There is a parallel here with Chomsky’s observation that individuals.the trolley problem. 15 At least in this case. can adeptly apply the rules of grammar in the absence explicit knowledge of those rules.14 How do people consistently manage to immediately give the “right” answers when there is no obvious line of reasoning that would lead one to those answers? In light of the above discussion. Nevertheless. as far as I know. This is because nearly everyone judges immediately that it’s acceptable to act in the original case and not in the footbridge case in spite of the fact that it’s very hard to say why this is so (echoes of Haidt’s “moral dumbfounding”). a natural hypothesis presents itself. thus demonstrating the inadequacy of this (admittedly crude) Kantian principle. even young children. one might suspect that the uniformity in people’s judgments concerning these cases is explained by a uniformity in their patterns of intuitive emotional response. has no obvious solution. The fact that it has no obvious solution is interesting from a psychological point of view.

and therefore revert to the most obvious moral principle. According to the above hypothesis. and Davidson and Irwin (1999). 166 .” which in turn leads them to say that the action in the original case is permissible. We would also make the following prediction concerning an interaction between people’s responses and reaction times. At the same time. much as did Haidt’s subjects in response to the taboo violations he proposed. Maddock (1999). negative emotional response to the personal violation proposed in the footbridge case they immediately say that it’s wrong. From individuals like Phineas Gage and Elliot and from a number of neuroimaging studies.16 we’ve learned that certain parts of the brain are associated with emotional response. “minimize harm. Because people have a robust. Brain scanning techniques such as fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) are capable of detecting real-time changes in the level of activity in various regions of the brain. people fail to have a strong negative emotional response to the relatively impersonal violation proposed in the original trolley case. Therefore. we would predict that subjects passing judgment on dilemmas like the footbridge case while undergoing brain scanning would show increased activity in at least some emotion-related brain areas as compared to those passing judgment on dilemmas like the original trolley case.thought of harming someone in this personal way is likely to be more emotionally salient than the thought of harming someone in a relatively impersonal way. when people contemplate the performance of a personal violation such as pushing someone in front of a 16 For two useful reviews see Reiman (1997).

then. Both of these predictions (neurological and behavioral) proved accurate. 18 Dilemmas were classified as “personal” or “impersonal” by independent coders according to the following criteria.trolley. Unless such individuals are psychopaths. but closer to the back of the brain (Brodmann’s Area 31). which is behind the forehead along the space that separates the two cerebral hemispheres (Brodmann’s Area 9/10). Some people. they experience an emotional response which inclines them to judge that action inappropriate. (This area was one of the areas affected by Gage’s accident. Dilemmas concerning actions that are likely to 167 . we would expect that when they give such answers they do so in spite of their emotions. that such individuals would.) The second is the posterior cingulate region. take longer to give their judgments than those who judge such actions to be inappropriate and longer than those passing judgments on dilemmas that do not elicit strong emotional responses. The third region is centered around the angular gyrus which is on the side of the brain towards the back (Brodmann’s Area 39). Three brain areas previously associated with emotional response (including one of the areas affected by Gage’s accident)17 were more active during contemplation of “personal” moral dilemmas such as the footbridge dilemma than during contemplation of “impersonal” dilemmas such as the original trolley dilemma. which is also along the space between the hemispheres.18 We also found that reaction times for trials in which the subject 17 The first of these regions lies in the medial prefrontal cortex. on average. do judge such actions to be appropriate. We would predict. however.

Constructing a more detailed psychological typology of moral judgments is a matter for further research19 and theorizing.” All other moral dilemmas were classified as “impersonal. While it may be true in general that emotions tend to drive moral judgment. someone who is “on stage” in the dilemma) (c) where this harm is not the result of deflecting an existing threat onto a different party are classified as “personal. Haidt aptly summarizes the Humean shift in our understanding of emotion and reason in moral psychology: Journalists studying Congress sometimes say that to understand the legislative process one should “follow the money. Similarly. these data lend further support to the social intuitionist model.” (Coders were given more extensive and specific guidelines than those described here. unlike most people. to respond to the trolley dilemma and the footbridge dilemma in similar ways. They also suggest a modification. but the personal/impersonal distinction is. 168 . By implicating emotional response as a key determinant of moral judgment in normal adults.e. I believe.” and not the political rhetoric.) 19 This theory makes a straightforwardly testable prediction concerning psychopaths and patients like Elliot.judged a personal violation to be appropriate were on average significantly longer than those of other types of trials. psychologists studying moral behavior should “follow cause (a) serious bodily harm (b) to a particular person (i. We would expect them. moral reasoning may hold sway in some types of moral judgment. a step in the right direction.

Consider the projection metaphor. We “project” moral qualities onto the world and consequently see it as if it possessed these qualities all by itself.” and not be fooled by ex post facto moral reasoning. Reasoning ability may be more salient. though neutral in themselves. no help from us. cause us to have certain kinds of emotional reactions in response to them? Why are we unaware of our tendency to project? 169 . 2000). Why does the world appear this way? Why do the things that we think of as wrong strike us as positively oozing wrongness? Why do the things that we think of as right appear to positively glow with rightness? Why don’t we simply see the objects of our moral interest as things that.4 Projective Error Moral judgment is. Of course. but reasoning may be little more than the tail wagged by the dog. often to great effect. for the most part. The moral projectivist claims that in our encounters with the moral world we ourselves are fooled (often to great effect). So far so Humean. But this alone does not amount to projectivism in the fullest sense. but our visual systems are fooled. 3. The dog itself appears to be moral intuitions and emotions (Haidt. intuitive and emotional. we know that what we see before us are mere projections and not real people and places. and tools for measuring moral reasoning may be more fully developed. We patrons of the cinema experience a kind of illusion.the emotions.

Except in rare instances. We don’t know how we do this. pg. 1985. Many philosophers would say that we don’t know why we have any phenomenological experiences at all (Chalmers. experimental psychology has demonstrated that very often things are not as they seem.. We just do it. 1996). while we do not yet know why things seem as they do. quickly and effortlessly. the most computationally complex things we do are most often the things we do with the least effort and the least understanding of how we do them. For example. There’s a saying among cognitive scientists: “Easy things are hard. At the same time.Our answers to these questions are far from complete.” (Minsky. Here we look to these disciplines to ease the pain of rejecting moral realism by explaining how an illusion of moral realism fits in well with our evolving understanding of the human mind and the forces that have shaped it. let alone why we experience particular aspects of the world as we do rather than some other way. 29). people have no trouble at all determining whether or not a given human face is male or female. That is. we have no experience of figuring out whether or not the human faces we encounter are male or female even though these judgments are in fact extremely complex (Wiskott et al. 1995). human faces just look male or look 170 . evolutionary theory and cognitive science have helped us understand why it makes sense that we should fall prey to certain kinds of illusions and not others. From our point of view. Nevertheless. The mind is far from transparent to itself and often quite misleading about its own nature and the nature of the world.

1997). The complexity of these judgments is buried deep in the subconscious processes that make these judgments on our behalf. Having the names of the state capitals at one’s disposal and an ability to calculate square roots in one’s head can be very useful under the right circumstances. They can be performed very quickly by very simple computers running very simple programs. and in different ways. and it’s no surprise that our abilities in this regard reflect many millions of years of practice. who lack “common sense. Why are so many of the things we find easy actually quite hard and vice versa? Part of the answer is that the forces of natural selection that have shaped our brains have lavished more R & D on some of our abilities and less on others. which require from us a relatively large amount of effort. But these tasks.20 20 It’s worth nothing that some people are more bumbling than others. In contrast to such “easy” tasks as sorting faces by sex.female. and our lack of practice is revealed in our bumbling efforts to accomplish these tasks. Sorting conspecifics by sex is a longstanding challenge to sexually reproducing species. we find tasks such as memorizing the state capitals or finding the square root of 2. The existence of these individuals gives us insight into the sorts of tradeoffs that mother nature 171 .345 considerably more difficult. Consider autistic savants who lack the most basic of social skills.” but who can perform inordinately complex mathematical calculations in their heads (Dehaene. but our use for such skills is a relatively recent development. are actually much simpler than the aforementioned facesorting task in terms of their computational demands.

as in the dilemma made famous by the film Sophie’s Choice. It’s a simple matter of intuition. It may sound strange to say that moral judgments are easy. arriving at this judgment is easy. After all.What about moral judgments? Are they hard or easy? According to the social intuitionist model.” and most of our moral judgments are made effortlessly and without any awareness of how they were formed. the ones that are just “common sense”—are not hard at all. Choosing death for one’s child is an obviously horrible thing to do. even these hard cases may be better characterized as easy cases gone awry. Consider. the footbridge case. moral dilemmas of this kind receive much attention. 172 . but more no than yes. Most of morality is “common sense. moral judgments are. A forced choice between these options. easy from our point of view. Moreover. With the right kind of cognitive apparatus. aren’t moral judgments paradigmatically difficult judgments? Yes and no. for the most part. some moral judgments are hard. but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that most moral judgments—the ones we don’t bother to talk about. hard can be easy and easy can be hard. By this I mean that they are not hard in the way that difficult mathematical calculations are has made in designing our minds. Of course. as is allowing both of one’s children to die. While justifying this judgment in its broader context is very hard. easy—that is. once again. Naturally. Nearly everyone says immediately and confidently that it’s wrong to push the man in front of the trolley to save the other five people. is fascinating and horrifying because it’s a rare instance of a choice in which both alternatives are deeply morally repugnant. not from a computational point of view.

philosophers and lay moralizers alike say immediately and confidently that it’s okay to turn the trolley away from the five people and onto the one person but not okay to push the one person in front of the trolley to prevent it from killing the five (easy and easy). They are cases of double-vision. When asked about their decision to have sex. They aren’t cases in which one blindly pokes around looking for a clue or laboriously plods toward an obscure solution. If the social intuitionist model is correct. implicitly—and in many cases explicitly (Thomson. Recall the case of Mark and Julie.” slowly and laboriously producing half-baked justifications that they themselves often find lacking (hard). When asked to provide a reasoned justification for this judgment. typically coming into play after the relevant moral judgment has already been rendered (Haidt. Philosophers are still trying to produce a satisfying principled justification for this set of judgments that doesn’t run into similar trouble elsewhere (hard). 1990) 173 . like most philosophical discussions of normative ethics. most people immediately and confidently say that it was wrong for them to do so (easy). as noted above. the two college-aged siblings who decided to have sex. but. moral reasoning is a largely ad hoc phenomenon. Once again. 2001. 820). people typically engage in “moral dumbfounding. Cases like Sophie’s choice are not so much cases in which it’s hard to see the right answer as they are cases in which it’s hard not to see two right answers. One may be inclined to say that moral judgments are hard because moral reasoning is hard. Discussions of trolley type cases. moral reasoning and moral judgment are two different things.hard. two wrong answers. not blindness. pg. or more accurately.

” may be accurately described by a rationalist moral psychology. That is. 174 . those that I’ve called “impersonal. our intuitive moral judgments about particular cases are what’s given. As Haidt says. The brain imaging data concerning these and other moral dilemmas suggest that cases such as the original trolley case do not elicit much of an emotional response. Nevertheless. this jibes with the social intuitionist account. It seems to me that some judgments such as this one. my interpretation of people’s tendency to judge the action proposed in the original trolley case to be morally acceptable is that.21 21 Earlier I mentioned the possibility that the cases focused on by Haidt and others who reject rationalism in moral psychology are the cases most likely to elicit intuitive judgments and least likely to elicit reasoned responses. intuitive moral judgments come first.—suppose that moral intuitions do and should play the role of “data” in moral theorizing. in the absence of an emotional response either way. Of course. the reasoned justifications for those judgments come later. As noted earlier. As a description of a practice. people apply a simple consequentialist principle and thus opt for saving the greater number of lives. there is good reason to think that moral judgment is intuitive in general. (2001). The contrast between the original trolley case and the footbridge case illustrates this point. there may be more of a place for rationalist moral psychology than Haidt supposes. the phenomena for which moral theories must account. and the aforementioned results concerning psychopaths and brain-damaged individuals lend further support to this conclusion. See Greene et al. As noted earlier. moral reasoning is not always ad hoc.

can we say that moral judgment is easy?” Bear in mind that by “easy” I don’t mean “easy to get right. by understanding moral judgment as merely one among many deceptively easy psychological processes. for example. Some have claimed. that we ought to drastically change the way we treat animals (Singer. The things that we do best. then.” Such arguments are advanced in an attempt to overturn the conventional moral wisdom. more facile moral judgments. the things that feel easiest to us. to get us to think and act in spite of our ordinary. But these esoteric moral judgments are clearly not the norm. These complex 22 One might have the following worry: “What if these radical ethicists are right? What if we’ve come to many wrong moral conclusions about basic moral issues? How. and in a sense they are the “exceptions that prove the rule.22 Why does it matter whether moral judgments are hard or easy? It matters because easy psychological processes and hard psychological processes differ in their histories and characteristic phenomenologies. 1975) or that it’s wrong to spend one’s money on middle-class luxuries while there are needy people in the world who could benefit immensely from those resources (Unger.Occasionally philosophers have drawn (and acted upon) surprising moral conclusions about particular practices on the basis of reasoning from general moral principles.” but rather “produced by an effortless. are the things for which we have inherited special skills from our ancestors.” Moral judgments can be easy in this sense even if they’re all incorrect. More specifically. 175 . 1996). we can begin to understand why moral phenomenology should lead us into projective error. intuitive process.

Some humans really are male. and our making them does not feel like a matter of simple perception. female.cognitive processes that nature has made easy for us are often associated with a perceptual phenomenology. This is because mother nature has not equipped us with the tools necessary for determining intuitively whether someone is HIV positive or whether a given star is moving away from us. there is an important difference between our moral intuitions and these other sorts of intuitive judgments. It just looks male. that nothing is really right or really wrong. In contrast to the above cases of perception. But if the anti-realism defended in the last chapter is correct. I’ve been comparing our intuitive moral judgments to our intuitive judgments concerning other things such as the sex and familiarity of human faces. When we hear a sound coming from the left we don’t figure out that it’s coming from the left. And when we see that same face the next day from a different angle and in different lighting conditions we don’t figure out that it’s the same face. It just sounds like there’s something over there. however. making such judgments is hard. It’s not hard to see 176 . but we weren’t. Nor do we look at stars that are receding and see them as receding. It just looks familiar. We might have been designed so that individuals who are HIV positive just look HIV positive to us or so that stars that are receding just look like they’re receding. Some faces really are familiar. and some auditory stimuli really are emanating from over there. I claim. Once again. As a result. we don’t look at Magic Johnson and see him as HIV positive. when we look at a male face we don’t figure out that it’s male.

capable of serving our ends in any number of ways. We members of Homo sapiens are a highly social species. but why would she endow us with an ability to ascertain non-existent moral facts? Alas. to those (all-important) aspects of morality that remain in the absence of moral realism (i. etc. well-served by a belief that this is so. she only cares about the truth of our beliefs to the extent that our having true beliefs contributes to our reproductive fitness. and likewise with any number of other beliefs about the state of the world. having true beliefs is generally advantageous in this regard. there is a hungry tiger in the vicinity. we have developed special capacities for forming true beliefs about particular aspects of our environments that are especially important for our survival. As a result there are obvious benefits to humans having moral223 sensibilities. including ways that impose great costs on others. Moreover.e.e. sources of food. Or. Most of the distinctive biological strategies we’ve developed depend crucially on our complex interactions with one another. She doesn’t care whether or not we have true beliefs. ceteris paribus. threats. mother nature is not as kind as one might hope. morality1).e. 177 . to our being concerned to respect the interests of 23 Recall that “moral2” refers to morality qua concern for the interests of others. for example beliefs about which of the objects we encounter are potential mates. for example. more charitably. epistemically speaking. i. If. we are a highly intelligent species. Furthermore.why mother nature would have endowed us with an intuitive ability to ascertain certain facts about our environment. one is. That said. i.

however. While there is an ongoing debate about how morality2 managed to evolve. In the most general terms.24 there is little doubt among evolutionary theorists that morality2 has evolved and that it has its advantages. Wright. In contrast. but I am going to assume that it’s generally correct because my task here is not to explain the existence of morality2 but rather to explain the appeal of morality1. 1976). As noted above. are importantly different from those associated with our purely perceptual capabilities.individuals other than ourselves. our collective dispositions to help and refrain from harming one another are not advantageous because they allow us to know something about how the world is in and of itself. Dawkins (1976) and Sober and Wilson (1998). 2000). 178 . I’ve told this story with a bit of an anti-realist gloss that some friends of evolutionary moral psychology may not endorse.26 Certain aspects of the story as I’ve told it may be questioned. for example. 24 25 26 See. our ability to tell at a glance who is male or female is advantageous because it allows us to accurately represent mind-independent facts about our environment. Or as conduits for genes (Dawkins.25 So goes one version of the standard evolutionary account of the emergence of morality2. Its advantages. 1984. what each of us gains from not living with individuals who disregard the interests of those around them far outweighs what each of us loses by showing consideration for the interests of those around us (Axelrod. but because they help us survive as individuals in a social context. The existence of morality2 is by no means irrelevant to this task.

for example. not too little. live 179 . The difficulty in such cases lies in too much projection. there is the aforementioned “double vision” phenomenon associated with difficult moral dilemmas such as the one from Sophie’s Choice. even when they don’t know what it is? First.however. cognitive processes that are easy are likely to result in a perceptual phenomenology. unreliable). it should come as no surprise that we see the world in moral colors. I believe that most hard cases are cases in which two intuitive emotional responses are pitted against each other or in which an intuitive emotional response is pitted against a less impassioned concern for greater consequences as. This is because an efficiently implemented morality2 is likely to result in an illusion of morality1. Here we still project moral properties onto the world and are thus inclined toward realism.27 27 This projectivist account of moral phenomenology explains why we are inclined toward realism when it comes to “easy” moral judgments. As noted above. effortless. in the dilemma concerning whether or not to negotiate with terrorists. according to the results of the last chapter. one that works more like our ability to sort faces by sex (quick. in general. that we are in the unconscious habit of “gilding and staining” the world with moral properties that. easy. effortful. (Our emotions tell us to do whatever we can to save the real. Knowing that moral judgments are. but what about hard cases? Why do people often think that there is a fact of the matter about what’s right or what’s wrong. By an efficiently implemented morality2 I mean one that is easy. reliable) and less like our ability to memorize state capitals (slow. it simply doesn’t have.

however unconfident or otherwise emotionally detached. an illusion of realism in the face of uncertainty. (“The Lord works in mysterious ways. and this approach does not require that there be an episode of projection behind every realist moral judgment. we might consider realism in the face of difficult moral dilemmas that elicit no intuitive emotional responses. 180 . are expressions of emotional projections. and that is. can avoid this problem. Error theorists such as myself. however. as doing so may make things worse in the long run by encouraging future terrorist activities. I don’t know if there are any such cases. or at least sustain. This is especially plausible for people whose moral beliefs are grounded in religious beliefs according to which there is a metaphysical moral order that makes sense even if it often fails to make sense to us. the fact that so many moral dilemmas do appear to have clear right answers may lead people to conclude that there must be right answers even in cases in which the answers aren’t clear. In doing this.”) Emotivist non-cognitivists typically look to projectivism to provide an account of the meaning of moral judgments. enough to promote.) In cases such as these there is at least one intuitive emotional response at work. Second.individual(s) being held hostage—especially if we feel a personal connection to him/her/them—but our consequentialist tendencies warn against negotiating under such circumstances. but even if there are. according to my theory. they commit themselves to the rather implausible thesis that all moral judgments. I appeal to people’s general tendency to project to explain people’s general tendency toward realism.

By seeing each other in a sexy light they can avoid the hassle of having to figure out that it would be advantageous for them to have sex with each other. to a lustful baboon. We know this because we whose minds are wired-up somewhat differently from those of lustful baboons fail to see baboons as sexy at all. of course. Presumably. the sexiness of the object of his/her lust presumably strikes him/her as intrinsic sexiness. Appropriately situated animals see each other as sexy not because there’s an independently existing property. This is not to suggest that baboons draw an explicit distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic properties and then judge that sexiness is a property of the former sort. that these animals can successfully detect. A baboon has no inkling that the sexiness s/he’s experiencing in any way depends for its existence on his/her own psychological make-up. as far as we can surmise. depends crucially on—the mind of the beholder. (At least most of us don’t. But. The point is rather that. we and other animals see the world through a metaphysically misleading. baboons experience sexiness as being just as “out there” as anything else. What’s more. And if this sort of a system lulls some of its more sophisticated users into false metaphysical 181 . evaluative lens. when a sexually receptive male baboon views a sexually receptive female baboon. sexiness. as in the moral domain. he will likely see her as being very sexy.Something similar occurs in the domain of sexuality. that other baboon’s sexiness has everything to do with its admirer’s psychological make-up.) Sexiness is in—or at any rate. and her him. but because it serves such animals well to see each other as sexy. There.

under ordinary circumstances. and in so doing one sees a red streak connecting the two red dots. our well-honed visual systems make such judgments for us. A red spot appears on a screen followed almost immediately by an identical red spot slightly to the left. there are certainly other domains in which such errors are committed. It makes sense because. By seeing things this way we don’t have to figure out what’s in front of us. Any number of visual illusions illustrate this point. is this red streak? Where is it? Is it real? The most natural thing to say about this red streak is that it is projected. but our minds put it there because it makes sense to put it there. Whether or not a tendency to see certain things as sexy lulls those who have it into projective error.beliefs about the ontology of sexiness. in letting our visual systems make things easy for us by turning what might have been a conscious inference into an immediate perception (or “perception”) we run the risk of being fooled. of seeing something that isn’t really there. there is no red streak out in the world. a sensation of an object followed by a sensation of a very similar object that is slightly displaced in space and time are almost certainly the sensory effects of a single moving object. Providing the world’s creatures with true metaphysical beliefs was never the point. then. What. It’s not really there. Thus. though it certainly looks as if there is. so be it. However. Of course. it serves our interests to see such phenomena as single moving objects rather than as pairs of objects disappearing and appearing. Instead. 182 . Here’s one. What one sees (or “sees”) is the first dot move from right to left.

2000). when people are shown computer displays in which geometrical figures move in certain suggestive patterns those people immediately and without prompting attribute desires (e. 183 . Above cited in Scholl and Tremoulet (2000). a square moves so as to appear to be chasing a small triangle.g. and Berry and Springer (1993). See (Heider and Simmel. Above cited in Scholl and Tremoulet (2000).These sorts of projective illusions can be rather high level and extend into the social domain (Scholl and Tremoulet. shyness.28 (This effect is remarkably consistent across cultures and age-groups.29 There is some evidence suggesting that such attributions are made by infants and chimpanzees. and personality traits (e. Hashimoto (1966). for example. Rather. (1995) and Cisbra et al. 30 See Gergely et al. For example. emotions (e. emotions. Rime et al. 29 See Morris and Peng (1994).g. wanting to catch one of the other figures). and personality traits (although some of the younger subjects may in fact believe this). 1944). which in turn is being guided and protected by a circle. (1999).30 The point. frustration. (1985). of course. is not that the subjects in these experiments actually believe that the little squares and triangles moving around the computer screen have desires. the point is that people can’t help but see these displays in such terms: The importance of such phenomena stems partially from the fact that these interpretations seem to be largely perceptual in nature—to be fairly 28 In one case. starting as young as three years old. being a bully) to those figures.g. anger).

The way our minds are set up. some objects in the world really do have desires. 184 . One might take the radical view that many cases of ordinary perception are really covert Gettier cases (Gettier. The thought is that the cognitive shortcuts we use actually prevent us from having genuine knowledge of the world. i. automatic. like our capacity for the perception of moving objects. Of course. This distinguishes moral1 judgments from all the other types of judgment to which I have compared them. we just see the world in social terms. and personality traits. but because natural selection has contrived to make us get things right. not because we’re lucky (as in the standard Gettier cases). pg. and in some cases we can’t help but project social properties onto parts of the world that in fact have no such properties. to project properties onto the things that happen to really have those properties. and highly stimulus driven—despite the fact that they involve impressions typically associated with higher-level cognitive processing (Scholl and Tremoulet. Let us take a brief inventory of the relevant similarities and differences among these various kinds of judgment. that our moral psychology gets us in trouble whenever we make moral1 judgments. once again.fast. irresistible. and our tendency to project those properties onto those objects involves no error. 299). only gets us in trouble some of the time.31 Our capacity for social perception. We get things right.e. 31 Or so we ordinarily think. emotions. 1963). But I claim.

some objects really are moving. 32 and some of those moving objects really have the mental states we attribute to them. These are the most relevant similarities. say. There may. 185 . the motion of moving objects. projectivist anti-realism with respect to these domains is a mistake. it is only on certain occasions that such projections amount to projective errors. Once again. and the mental states of objects exhibiting certain kinds of motion. Of course “happens to be” is a bit misleading. The most anti-realistic thing we can say about these cases is that our minds are so constructed as to lead us into projective error with respect to these things on certain occasions. maleness or motion onto something that happens to really be male or moving. The differences are more subtle. the case of sexiness is importantly different from the cases of motion and importantly similar to the moral case because there are mindindependent facts about what’s moving or not while there are no mindindependent facts about what’s sexy or morally right/wrong.Like judgments about the sex of human faces. I stress that while projection itself may be ubiquitous in these domains. Mother nature has spent millions of years making sure this coincidence occurs. relative to the relevant spatio-temporal framework. moral judgments are generally easy (phenomenologically) and are generally associated with a perceptual phenomenology. however. these judgments have a distinctively social function. the sexiness of baboons/people. moving. In the ordinary case one will project. be an important difference between the case of sexiness and the moral 32 That is. Moreover. Because some individuals really are male/female. except in the case of simple motion perception.

” and 186 . to use Mark Johnston’s (1989) term.3. depend on our moral sensibilities in precisely the way that ordinary moral thought does not allow. “response dependent. Projectivism suggests that moral properties. at least the ones we think we’re perceiving. we mean that its wrongness is such that it would still be wrong even if our moral sensibilities had been different. I stipulated that moral facts can’t be mind-dependent in a straightforward way.case in that a lack of mind-independent facts about what’s sexy may not imply that there are no facts at all about what’s sexy (“sexiness anti-realism”). (It is for this reason that “relativism” is a popular term for moral skepticism. or only wrong because “wrong” is indexical.1.) When we say that something is morally wrong. many philosophers argue that that moral properties are. The central idea behind those arguments is this: To say of the nasty Twin Earthlings that what they do (gratuitously torture one another. and those arguments work a fortiori against views according to which. Let us once again consider what we are committed to in the moral case. for example) is only wrong from our point of view33 is to give up on the idea that what they do is really wrong. 34 Contrary to what I’ve said here. See discussion in Section 2. In Section 1. contra my stipulation.4. That depends on what we’re committed to in thinking that certain things are sexy. In Chapter 2 I argued against forms of moral realism that would have the moral facts be mind-dependent in a less straightforward way. the moral facts are straightforwardly mind-dependent. That’s why projectivism and anti-realism go hand in hand in the moral domain.34 33 Or only wrong from an improved version of our point of view.

See Section 4.” In the moral case we might “agree to disagree” for various reasons. See discussion of Smith. Perhaps it is. and realism would be compatible with projectivism if there were some sort of supernatural basis for moral truth such as God’s will or Moorean non-natural moral properties. and Jackson in Section 2. my strategy has been to reject moral realism on independent grounds and then. naturalistically). 35 That is not to say that they strictly imply one another.3.” It’s not clear that saying “and that’s all there is to it.An analogous alliance does not necessarily exist in the domain of sexiness. but you don’t. projectivist realism with respect to sexiness is a live option.4. but insofar as this isn’t obviously the case. More realistically (i.. explain that this is compatible with realism. but insofar as we are moral realists we’ll be sure to leave out the “and that’s all there is to it. with an assumption of anti-realism already in the background. Moral anti-realism would be true even if we failed to project. If I say that so-and-so is sexy and you deny that this is so. As noted earlier. Lewis. I find so-and-so sexy. and that’s all there is to it.e. it’s possible that a qualified sort of realism along the lines of Blackburn’s quasi-realism would be acceptable if certain contingent facts were otherwise. Once again. “Well. I might just say.” in the above exchange concerning so-and-so’s sexiness commits one to an anti-realism about sexiness because it’s not clear that the mind-independence of sexiness is essential to realism in that domain.35 and one can start with either one in hopes of securing the other.5 187 . moral projectivism and moral anti-realism go hand in hand.

class. we may conclude that the widespread error embodied in moral realism is an error that makes sense—a mistake. that we were born to make. thus relieving us of any reasons we might have had for believing in genuine. for the most part. unprojected moral properties (Harman. Others have employed the reverse strategy. beginning with a positive projectivist account of morality2 and then arguing from there against realism on the grounds that projectivism alone can account for all of the relevant phenomena. intuitive. and historical era. not epistemological—a matter of “How could things be that way?” rather than “What reasons do we have for believing that things are that way?” Either way. or are they learned? Haidt explains: Perhaps because moral norms vary by culture.the apparent truth of moral realism by appeal to our psychological tendency to project. Where do these intuitions come from? Are they innate.5 The Shaping of Morality Moral judgment is. I favor the first strategy over the second because I take the problem to be fundamentally metaphysical. psychologists have generally assumed that morality is learned in childhood. one might say. Once again. and they have set out to discover how morality gets from outside the child to inside. The social intuitionist model takes a very 188 . 3. 1977).

trading. is a major evolutionary adaptation for an intensely social life. pg. community concern.2. and cognitive empathy (the ability to trade places mentally with others). an understanding of reciprocity exhibited in concepts of giving. 827). It says that morality. or proto-moral. and anticipation of punishment. An examination of the moral. As noted in Section 3. Among the most striking of the above chimpanzee traits is their capacity for what is hard to describe as anything other than moralistic aggression. and negotiation (de Waal. norm-related characteristics such as the following of prescriptive social rules. Moral intuitions are therefore both innate and enculturated (2000. lives of other primates suggests that human morality has a powerful innate component. yet which requires input and shaping from a particular culture. which is better described as emergent than as learned.different view. Haidt (2000) summarizes an incident originally reported by de Waal (1982). like language. nonhuman primates exhibit sympathy-related traits such as attachment. 1996. and revenge as well as moralistic aggression against violators of reciprocity rules. built into multiple regions of the brain and body. emotional contagion. pg. 211). [The] zoo-keepers had created the rule that no chimp would be fed until all members of the colony had moved from the outdoor island to the indoor 189 . the avoidance of conflicts. and characteristics related to the maintenance of community life such as peace-making. special treatment of the disabled and injured. internalization of rules.

adopted various methods of voting. when they were released into the company of the colony. say. exiting the classroom without permission) and the “moral” (e. and they inflicted punishment the next day.g. in part by showing hostility to latecomers. largely instinctive and not a rationally designed cultural invention (Haidt. 827). they remembered this information overnight. pulling 190 . the other members vented their hostility on them. these chimps did not consciously adopt this method for social regulation in the way that we humans have. The chimps themselves worked to ensure that stragglers obeyed the rule. who on average have reduced prefrontal gray matter (Raine et al. Further empirical support for morality’s strong innate component comes from the various pathological cases we have already considered.sleeping enclosure. exhibit similar behavior. parsimony suggests that such behavior in ourselves is continuous with theirs. In other words. It is worth noting that.g. and insofar as we. that is. Psychopaths. delaying the feeding of the whole colony. the members of the colony were aware that specific individuals were the cause of the delayed feeding. This sort of behavior clearly has a strong biological basis. 2000). The next day. as far as anyone can tell. One evening two adolescent females stayed out for hours. 2001. one of the chimpanzee’s closest biological relatives. The zoo-keepers finally isolated the two errant adolescents. pg. fearing for their safety if they faced the angry colony. have a hard time sorting social violations into what Blair (1995) calls the “conventional” (e.

is not sufficient for language acquisition. 1994). We humans have a special capacity for acquiring human language. No one will ever learn English or Chinese without being exposed to those languages. cannot be completely innate. as moral norms and intuitions vary considerably across cultures. 191 . the ability to speak one’s native language arises out of powerful instincts and is not acquired in the same way that other skills are acquired. To begin. Adults can learn a second language. show not only a deficit in moral behavior but a deficit in their explicit knowledge of moral norms. there seems to be a critical period for language acquisition. however. We appear to have a special capacity for the acquisition of moral norms. the shaping of morality appears in many ways to be like the shaping of language.36 And. certain patients who have sustained ventromedial damage at an early age. (Not to mention psychopaths’ more obvious moral abnormalities. that is. however. As noted above. Our having this capacity. once again. like psychopaths. but doing so is a difficult process that requires a great 36 And it seems unlikely that this sort of biological deficit (eleven percent reduction in prefrontal gray matter) would be the result of environmental influence in the absence of some kind of trauma. Morality. The fact that such selective deficits are possible suggests that we do not learn moral norms by means of a generalized learning process.) It would be strange if their biological deficits were not the primary cause of their abnormal behavior. language of the specific form that is unique to and universal among humans (Pinker.someone’s hair). a capacity that is dramatically compromised in certain pathological individuals. Nevertheless.

and the “ethics of divinity” which is concerned with the maintenance of moral purity in the face of moral pollution. and individual welfare. unlike the natives of Orissa. According to Shweder and his colleagues (1997). much in the way that particular languages exploit a subset of the possible phonemes we are prepared to recognize and pronounce (Haidt.deal of conscious effort and that rarely produces the sort of fluency and pronunciation exhibited by native speakers. This is in part because adults who were not exposed to certain linguistic sounds (phonemes) during the critical period for language acquisition lose their ability to distinguish those alien phonemes from each other and from familiar ones (Werker and Tees. these intuitions cluster around what he calls the “big three” domains of human moral phenomena: the “ethics of autonomy” which concerns rights. their emphases can be very different. self-control. respectfulness. Rozin and colleagues (1999) argue that these three domains correspond to three basic moral emotions: anger for autonomy. the “ethics of community” which concerns the obligations of the individual to the larger community in the form of loyalty. modesty. While all cultures appear to have practices associated with each of the big three moral domains to some extent. 192 .. have relatively little familiarity with the ethics of divinity. 827). pg. Children develop different sets of intuitions/emotional responses depending on which moral “custom complexes” surround them. A similar pattern appears in moral development. contempt for community. Westerners. India. etc. and disgust for divinity. 1984). Particular cultures exploit a subset of the possible moral intuitions we are prepared to experience. freedom.

and transcendence). where the deity sits. Children in Orissa constantly encounter spaces and bodies structured by purity.…In Orissa. and how to use their heads and feet in a symbolic language of deference (as when one touches one’s head to the feet of a highly respected person)… By participating in these interlinked custom complexes regarding the use of space and the purification of the body. The human body is given a similar structure. Private homes have a similar structure with zones of high purity (the kitchen and the puja room. Foreigners and dogs may be allowed near the entrance of a temple complex. where the household deity is kept). and lower purity (an entrance room. and they learn to respect the dividing lines. 1981). but only worshippers who have properly bathed may be allowed into the central courtyard (Mahapatra.g. many spaces and objects are structured by rules of purity and pollution. India. When such children later encounter the cognitive content of the ethics of divinity (e. only the Brahmin priest is permitted to enter. asceticism. their minds and bodies are already prepared to accept these ideas. ideals of sacredness. and their truth feels self-evident… When an 193 . in which the head is the zone of highest purity. children learn that a central project of moral life is the regulation of one’s own bodily states as one navigates the complex topography of purity and pollution…. where visitors are entertained). They learn when to remove their shoes. In the inner sanctum. while the feet are highly polluting.

he does not know these things in the deep cognitive/affective/motoric way that a properly enculturated local knows them…. 827-8). offer the 194 . 2001. This learning process is largely emotional. consciously accessible way. projecting their results into consciousness. he may know how rules of purity and pollution govern the use of space. but he knows these things only in a shallow. and Miller (1987) proposed a “social communication theory” in which children seek to understand the moral order that surrounds them and the “local guardians of the moral order” assist them in understanding it. Children in Orissa. largely by making affectively laden moral interpretations during the course of routine family and community life. Mahapatra. Shweder et al. Perhaps the most powerful channel through which adults socialize children is by displaying their own emotional reactions.American…travels in India. factual. Social skills and judgmental processes that are learned gradually and implicitly then operate unconsciously. Western children who are not exposed to the relevant culture complexes fail to develop such intuitions. where they are experienced as intuitions arising from nowhere (Haidt. but learn to develop intuitions of their own. some of which will seem alien to members of certain other cultures. Shweder. India learn to see the world in terms of purity and pollution.

there appear to be critical periods for moral education. members of other cultures may find our intuitions concerning things such as a woman’s rights with respect to her husband utterly mysterious. all sacred objects. To Western ears. When her child approaches. where a menstruating woman is expected to avoid physical contact with her husband. a menstruating woman might say. patients who sustain ventromedial damage at a young age appear more likely to exhibit anti-social behavior than those who sustain such damage later in life (Anderson et al.. Rozin. talk of a menstruating woman’s being “polluted” sounds primitive and silly. with some emotion. 1999). and even her own children. the child learns that there is a state of “pollution” in which touch becomes dangerous (Haidt. India. 2000). but to one who has developed intuitive emotional responses to such talk and the states with which it is concerned. As in the case of language. What to us is a manifestly abhorrent and abusive relationship will strike normal. Likewise. As noted above.example of menstrual pollution among traditional Brahmins in Orissa. and if temple priests react with distress or anger when a sacred site is defiled by contact with a person in a state of impurity. the kitchen. “I am polluted! Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me!” If menstruating aunts and sisters show similar reactions. upstanding members of certain other cultures as perfectly acceptable. Fallon. and Augustoni-Ziskind (1985) point out that children in cultures that do not emphasize matters of purity and pollution often develop such intuitions spontaneously 195 . it sounds like common sense.

People can acquire explicit propositional knowledge about right and wrong in adulthood. 828) summarizes the social intuitionist account of moral development as follows. Around the age of four children tend to go from being relatively uninterested in matters of fairness to being obsessed with them. Minoura (1992) found striking differences in the socialization processes undergone by Japanese children of different ages living in America where their fathers were temporarily transferred for work. and other forms of 196 .. Something similar appears to be the case with respect to the ethics of autonomy and community. pg.around the ages of seven or eight. those who spent a few years in America during the ages of nine through fifteen tended to develop American ways of interacting with friends and of reacting to and addressing interpersonal problems. 1998) involving sensory. 1991). often overgeneralizing norms of fairness to inappropriate situations (Fiske. motor. Haidt (2001. Moral development is primarily a matter of cultural shaping of intuitions. et al.”) These intuitions and concerns. but it is primarily through participation in custom-complexes (Shweder. and the ones who arrived in America after the age of fifteen did not adjust as well to American life. tend to wither without cultural support. however. Of these children. The ones who spent time in America before the age of nine showed no such lasting effects. Such late arrivals typically felt awkward behaving in American ways even while having excellent explicit knowledge of American behavioral norms. (Think of children’s frequent obsessions with “cooties.

an explanation featuring the Humean notion of projectivism according to which we intuitively see various things in the world as possessing moral properties that they do not actually have. 1992) that one comes to feel.2-3. Lieberman. Huttenlocher. engaged in “moral dumbfounding. 1999.” bumbling efforts to supply reasons for their intuitive judgments. Shore.6 The Illusion of Rationalist Psychology In Sections 3. This explains why we tend to be realists. when asked to explain why Mark and Julie’s behavior is wrong. that are shared with one’s peers during the sensitive period of late childhood and adolescence (Harris. The social intuitionist model is counterintuitive. 3. 1995. the self-evident truth of moral propositions. Why do people make this mistake? Consider. 2000. the case of Mark and Julie. but it doesn’t explain. the siblings who decided to have sex. and to some extent is at odds with. Minoura. once again. 1996). 1994. This need not have been so. It might have turned out that all the subjects said things like this right off the bat: 37 That is. 1999).37 People tend to believe that moral judgments are produced by reasoning even though this is not the case.4 I developed an explanation for why moral realism appears to be true.implicit knowledge (Fiske. the following curious fact. physically and emotionally (Damasio. 197 . Many subjects. at least for Westerners. Lakoff and Johnson. 1994.

they tend to start by spinning the sorts of theories that ethicists have devised.“Why do I say it’s wrong? Because it’s clearly just wrong. theories that are nevertheless notoriously difficult to defend. I just have an intuition that tells me that it is. What more is there to say?” Perhaps some subjects did respond like this. even though they generally discovered (often with some embarrassment) that they could not easily supply adequate reasons for their judgments.” Rather. for example. I suspect. learn about the rational design of their public institutions. Why do people insist on giving reasons in support of judgments that were made with great confidence in the absence of reasons? I suspect it has something to do with the custom complexes in which we Westerners have been immersed since childhood. subjects typically felt the need to portray their responses as products of reasoning.38 Western individuals are expected to choose their own way. On many occasions I’ve asked people to explain why they say that it’s okay to turn the trolley onto the other tracks but not okay to push someone in front of the trolley. In my experience. Rarely do they begin by saying. it is only after a bit of moral dumbfounding that people are willing to confess that their judgments were made intuitively. that Western culture is especially so. We live in a reason-giving culture. American children. however. the all important “checks and balances” 38 That is not to say that other cultures are not sufficiently “reason-giving” to produce this effect. but most did not. Instead. 198 . Isn’t that plain to see? It’s as if you’re putting a lemon in front of me and asking me why I say it’s yellow. “I don’t know why. and to do so for good reason.

Westerners learn about doctors who make diagnoses and scientists who. sometimes as parts of organized debates. and he responds intuitively.” When Western countries win wars they draft peace treaties explaining why they. The subject is perhaps aware of his “gut 199 . we can imagine what might go on when a Westerner makes a typical moral judgment and is then asked to explain why he said what he said or how he arrived at that conclusion. for example. such intuitive responses tend to present themselves as perceptual. Reasoning isn’t the only game in town.” but American children are nevertheless given numerous reasons for the decisions of their nation’s founding fathers. As suggested above. The American Declaration of Independence famously declares “these truths to be self-evident. by means of experimentation. when asked. The question is posed. With this in mind. unlock nature’s secrets. the judicial system according to which accused individuals have a right to a trial during which they can. of course.between the branches of government. if they wish. Some people are better at reasoning than others. Those seeking public office make speeches explaining why they should be elected. the evils of absolute monarchy and the injustice of “taxation without representation. and not their vanquished foes. can explain why they said what they said and did what they did. plead their cases in a rational way. but everyone knows that the best people are the ones who. etc. inevitably with the help of a legal expert whose job it is to make persuasive legal arguments. were in the right and set up special courts to try their enemies in a way that makes it clear to all that they punish only with good reason.

But I’m sure it’s right. “Well. already involved. I answered intuitively. So.” doesn’t sound like a very good answer. but in the case where you go ahead and push the guy he’s just there minding his own business.” People’s confidence that their judgments are objectively correct combined with the pressure to give a “good answer” leads people to produce these sorts of post-hoc explanations/justifications. “What would be a good reason for reaching this conclusion?” And then. Rather. instead.” but he doesn’t take himself to have merely had a gut reaction.” or. He could say. The individuals who offer them may themselves believe that the reasons they’ve given after the fact were really their reasons all along. say. “I don’t know. The subject is then asked to explain how he arrived at his judgment. like. what they “really had in mind” in giving those quick responses. Such explanations need not be the results of deliberate attempts at deception.reaction. I just did. in the first case the other guy is. But this is not the answer he gives because he knows after a lifetime of living in Western culture that “I don’t know how I reached that conclusion. 200 . he says something that sounds plausible both as a causal explanation of and justification for his judgment: “It’s wrong because their children could turn out to have all kinds of diseases. drawing on his rich experience with reason-giving and -receiving.” and this answer would be the most accurate answer for nearly everyone. he takes himself to have detected a moral property out in the world. he asks himself. the inherent wrongness in Mark and Julie’s incestuous behavior or in shoving someone in front of a moving train.

822). for these processes are not accessible to consciousness. when asked how they managed to solve the problem. Rather people are searching for plausible theories about why anyone in their situation would have done what they did (Haidt. were much more likely to attribute their insight to a salient but demonstrably useless cue. 1980). 1931).Supposing that people engage in this kind of post-hoc fabrication may sound cynical. LaBerge. Maier found that subjects were much more likely to solve the problem he’d put to them (the solution involving tying together two ropes suspended far apart from the ceiling) if he’d casually swung one of the ropes while talking to them. pg. But what people are searching for is not a memory of the actual cognitive processes that caused their behaviors. and Butler. namely twirling a weight on a cord (Maier. Nisbett and Wilson (1977) argue that the subjects’ introspective causal explanations given in this case and similar cases are often post-hoc fabrications . people engage in an effortful search that may feel like a kind of introspection. even paranoid. but the subjects. Such subjects readily devised 201 . 2001. 1993) and subliminal presentation (Kunst-Wilson and Zajonc. but there are good reasons to think that such phenomena are fairly common and not limited to people’s explanations of their moral judgments. When asked to explain their behaviors. Similar effects are seen in subjects whose actions were caused by means of post-hypnotic suggestion (Zimbardo.

As Robert Nozick (1993) wrote. Such patients will sometimes offer fabricated verbal explanations (produced by the left side of the brain) for actions performed by body parts under right-hemispheric control (Gazzaniga. “Philosophy means ‘love of wisdom. philosophers are often well aware of the fact that their moral judgments are the results of intuition. Thus. Whether or not this tendency toward believing in rationalist moral psychology is peculiar to Western culture or more universal is unclear.plausible but false explanations for their behavior. it’s commonplace among ethicists to think of their moral theories as attempts to organize pre-existing moral intuitions. even others with domain-specific knowledge. As noted above.’ but what philosophers really love is reasoning. Perhaps the most dramatic illustration of this sort of effect is in the behavioral explanations given by splitbrain patients. that may be because you belong to a rare class of people who really do arrive at moral judgments by reasoning.” Deanna Kuhn (1991) has found that philosophers tend to engage in genuine reasoning where others. 1985). patients whose two cerebral hemispheres have been surgically separated in order to prevent the inter-hemispheric spread of dangerous seizures. The mistake philosophers tend to make is in accepting rationalism proper. the view that our moral intuitions (assumed to be roughly correct) must 202 . But my guess is that even among philosophers particular moral judgments are made first and reasoned out later. In my experience. if all of this stuff about reasoning as a post-hoc fabrication sounds implausible to you. One place where we might expect this tendency to run rampant is among philosophers. do not.

39 39 There is a potential tension between my claim in this section that people tend to accept rationalist moral psychology and my claim in the last chapter (Section 2. philosophers are as likely as anyone to think that there must be “some good reason” for why it’s okay to turn the trolley onto the other set of tracks but not okay to push the person in front of the trolley. pg. is a piece of moral theory with justificatory force and not a piece of psychological description concerning patterns in people’s emotional responses. This tendency toward rationalist psychology has some important consequences which we will explore in the next chapter.2) that Smith’s analytic naturalism attributes to people an unduly rationalistic 203 . For example.be ultimately justified by some sort of rational theory that we’ve yet to discover. Here’s Haidt (2001. The first illusion can be called the “wag-the-dog” illusion: We believe that our own moral judgment (the dog) is driven by our own moral reasoning (the tail). Such a belief is analogous to believing that forcing a dog’s tail to wag by moving it with your hand should make the dog happy.” or course. The second illusion can be called the “wag-the-other-dog’s-tail” illusion: In a moral argument. where a “good reason. then our moral life is plagued by two illusions. 823) with a summary and preview: If moral judgment is generally a post-hoc fabrication intended to justify automatic moral intuitions.4. we expect the successful rebuttal of our opponents’ arguments to change our opponents’ minds.

the complaint about building rationalism into the meaning of moral terms is still legitimate. Hence people tend toward a belief in rationalist moral psychology. for the most part. Second. We are. Once again. Insofar as less rationalistic cultures employ moral concepts such as wrongness. in fact. here I claim only that certain cultures exhibit this affinity for rationalist moral psychology. so wellconception of morality. the point would still stand. even if all cultures were like Western culture. we must distinguish between believing that someone can or has reasoned to some moral conclusion and believing that there is nothing more to the fact that some conclusion is true than that some group of people would. if fully rational and informed. First. arrive at that conclusion. driven not by moral reasoning. conceptually competent moralists need not believe that moral facts are merely facts about what conclusions we would reach if we more informed and more rational.3. People believe that moral judgments. Our capacity for moral judgment is a complex evolutionary adaptation to an intensely social life. like scientific judgments. But at the same time. People can accept a rationalist moral psychology without accepting a rationalist moral philosophy. but by moral intuitions of an emotional nature. 204 .7 Conclusion Moral judgment is. I have two responses. are typically produced by episodes of reasoning.

a part of “common sense. our ability to make moral judgments feels to us like a perceptual ability. the belief that our moral judgments are caused by moral reasoning. mistakenly believing that the rational tail wags the emotional dog. once again. An individual’s moral sensibility is shaped by the “culture complexes” that surround her. The psychological tendencies that encourage this false belief serve an important biological purpose. from our point of view.adapted to making moral judgments that our making them is. and that explains why we should find moral realism so attractive even though it is false. an ability. but local in its content. Amidst all of this misunderstanding of the moral mind and the moral world. We Westerners. and perhaps others as well.” And like many of our common sense abilities. to discern immediately and reliably mindindependent moral facts. Moral realism is. is universal in its form. in this case. We fail to appreciate the intuitive nature of our moral judgments. Moral realism is not the only illusion that plagues our moral thought. rather easy. Morality. As a result we misunderstand not only ourselves (the “wag-the-dog” illusion) but others as well (the “wag-the-other-dog’s-tail” illusion). are inclined toward a mistaken rationalist moral psychology. It is our biological inheritance to see the world in moral terms. to “gild and stain” the world with moral colors. As a result. a mistake we were born to make. like language. we are naturally inclined toward a mistaken belief in moral realism. we should hardly be surprised if the way we think and talk about moral matters is 205 . But each culture paints its own design and with its own palate.

Indeed. 206 .less than ideal. Part II of this essay is devoted to explaining how this might be accomplished. I believe we can do better.

Part II: What to Do About It 207 .

Morality2 survives in the absence of morality1. which is to say that we are perfectly free to go on caring about each others’ well being and guiding our actions accordingly. 208 . the way we ordinarily think and talk about moral matters. horrible truth about morality. it would be foolish to go on just as before. has been shaped by psychological tendencies and cultural practices that are thoroughly realist.Chapter 4 Practical Anti-Realism In Part I we concluded that moral realism is false and that moral psychology provides us with a good account of our mistaken inclinations toward realism. we must now consider what it means to embrace it from a practical standpoint. at the same time. The common sense approach to moral life. In this chapter we begin the process of separating baby from bath water. is there any sense left in trying to lead a moral life? Of course. what are we to do? Is morality just a bunch of nonsense? Now that we know the terrible. there is. Given that there is no fact of the matter about moral right and wrong. But. Having embraced anti-realism from a theoretical standpoint. While there is certainly nothing wrong1 with doing things the same old way. knowing all the while that our actions are neither right nor wrong. the conclusions we’ve reached suggest that at least some aspects of our established moral practices are likely to be counterproductive.

that the world is not as we believed or hoped it to be. instead. They are viewed as failures. If. then finding out that you and your common sense were right all along is a cause for disappointment. 1998. If the goal of philosophy is to discover and resolve esoteric philosophical problems (“Do numbers exist?”). is a 209 .1 Some Preliminaries 4. naïve. that sort of thing). then finding out that you and your common sense were right all along is an unmitigated success (“Yes! They do!”). Error theories and antirealisms are typically taken to be pessimistic positions because they tell us that we were wrong. an attempt to face squarely the demise of moral realism and make the most of what remains. social injustice. the goal is to gain insight into problems that are primarily the concern of people outside of philosophy (war. It means that we’ve discovered nothing beyond that which ordinary people take for granted. (Headline: “External World Exists! Epistemological Skepticism Defeated!”) An error theory. In a sense that’s correct. theories of last resort (McNaughton. I take a different view. famine.4. but the tone is all wrong. on the other hand. pg.1.1 Error Theories And Pessimism One might view the enterprise of this essay as a salvage operation. 98).

cause for optimism. In a world full of practical problems, news of past mistakes is good news, the first step toward avoiding them in the future.1


Of course there is value in epistemological conservatism and respect for

common sense, but I think that philosophers often overvalue these things. New ideas are more likely to be useful than old ideas simply because old ideas have already been put to use or discarded. At the same time, though, new ideas are more likely than old ideas to be incorrect. (If it’s such a good idea, why didn’t someone think of it before?) Thus, there is a tension between the theoretical and practical standpoints with respect to the evaluation of new ideas. New ideas are more likely to be wrong, but at the same time they’re our best hope for progress. What to do? The following case illustrates what I take to be a good balance. Suppose there is a large body of evidence suggesting that a certain disease, one that has proved very difficult to cure, is caused by a virus. A new study suggests that this disease is in fact caused by environmental pollutants. The proper response to the new study would be a mixture of skepticism and hope. In the face of much conflicting evidence, we will have our doubts about this new study and do our best to explain the data it reports in a way that is consistent with the viral theory. But in our hearts we will hope that the conclusion supported by the new study is correct, that we had been wrong all along, and that we are now in a position to make some progress. I believe that a similar mixture of skepticism and hope is an appropriate response to the revisionary meta-ethics outlined in Part I.


4.1.2 The Baggage of Moral Realism

Some error theories are more unsettling than others. If it turns out that common sense is wrong about, say, the nature of causation, that conclusion, however unwelcome it may be to epistemological conservatives, is not likely to upset the folks back home. Meta-ethical error theories of the kind advocated by myself and the late John Mackie, however, are more likely to disturb, say, a well-meaning relative who innocently inquires after the subject of my dissertation: “No such thing as right and wrong? This is what they teach you? I suppose you think we should let Osama Bin Laden do as he pleases!” Such reactions reveal a misunderstanding encouraged by the dominance of moral realism. Under a typical realist regime, it’s wrong to oppose something Another worry: Does this mean that any usable news is good news? Should we say that the news that you have cancer is good news since now, having heard the news, you’re in a position to start treating it? What counts as good or bad news depends on your frame of reference. To learn of your cancer is to discover that you have a problem that you didn’t know you had. In contrast, the problems that I claim are exacerbated by our belief in moral realism are problems that we already know we have. Thus, finding out that we have relevant false beliefs introduces no new practical problems, only possible solutions, which is why I say that the rejection of moral realism is good news.


that is not wrong. (“But I haven’t done anything wrong!” cries he against whom undue punitive actions have been taken.) Combine my claim that no action is wrong, with the realist’s background assumption that it’s wrong to oppose actions that are not wrong, and we have a recipe for disaster (as well as a contradiction): If terrorists want to kill thousands of innocents, who are we to stop them? After all, they’re not doing anything wrong! In rejecting moral realism we must reject the whole thing, including the assumption that it’s wrong to oppose that which is not wrong. This should go without saying since, as noted above, it can’t be the case that no actions are wrong and that certain acts of opposition are wrong. Nevertheless, “X is not wrong,” and “Allow X!” are so closely allied in ordinary ethical discourse that we are likely to assume a parallel alliance between the meta-ethical claim “Nothing is wrong,” and the libertine dictum, “Allow everything!” Conflating anti-realism or error theory with universal permissiveness or nihilism (See Section 1.5.4) is a mistake to be avoided as we consider the practical options available to antirealists and error theorists. Avoiding this pitfall is easy once it has been pointed out, but there is other realist baggage with which it is more difficult to part. We return once again to the distinction introduced in Chapter 1 between:

moral1: of or relating to the facts concerning right and wrong, etc.



moral2: of or relating to serving (or refraining from undermining) the interests of others.2

One of the central claims of this essay is that we can retain the benefits of morality2 while rejecting morality1. Obviously this would not be possible if morality1 and morality2 were inseparable, and therefore I will take a few moments to defend this all-important distinction. In Chapter 1, I argued for the plausibility of this distinction using the example of Brett, an individual who is highly moral2 (showing great concern for the interests of others), but not at all moral1 (explicitly denying that there is any fact of the matter concerning what one ought to do). I described Brett in a bit more detail and asserted that there is no incoherence in Brett’s psychology as described, and therefore no problem with disentangling the moral1 from the moral2. One obstacle to drawing this distinction is the possibility that moral realism might be true. If there were a fact of the matter about what’s right and wrong, then it would be possible for Brett to be inadvertently moral1 in spite of his avowals to the contrary. However, we’ve since concluded that realism is false and thus eliminated this particular challenge to the moral1/moral2 distinction.


In light of our discussion of the “ethic of divinity” this definition is actually overly

restrictive, reflecting my Western bias. However, for the purposes of this essay this should not matter.


There is, however, a different objection we should consider. One might think that it is, as matter of psychological fact, simply impossible to behave morally2 if one does not, on some level, accept moral realism. The thought may be that human beings simply will not be motivated to act morally2 if they do not believe that there is a fact of the matter concerning how they ought to behave. This issue concerning the relationship between motivation and moral judgment is essentially the converse of the more familiar issue surrounding the thesis of internalism (Smith, 1994). Internalism is the view according to which moral judgments are necessarily motivating (at least insofar as agents are rational). According to internalism a rational agent cannot, for example, sincerely judge that some action is morally wrong without being motivated to refrain from performing it. Internalism, though doubtful in my opinion, is not completely implausible. After all, someone who performs an action that she professes to be wrong invites us to doubt her sincerity (or, alternatively, the strength of her will). However, the thesis behind the present objection to the moral1/moral2 distinction is far more radical than internalism. According to this view, it’s impossible to exhibit stable moral2 behavior and patterns of thought without believing that failure to do so would or could be immoral1. This is akin to the belief, common within certain theistic subcultures, that atheists, people who are literally not Godfearing, cannot be trusted to behave morally2. Few of us would believe that, so why would one think that moral2 behavior requires some other kind of metaphysical belief?


There are, I think, two paths to this conclusion. The first is by way of thinking that there is little more, perhaps nothing more, to being a moral realist than living a moral2 life. This path is more likely to be taken by contemporary realist philosophers, and parallels the rather eccentric belief that anyone who exhibits morally worthy behavior is a de facto theist. The second path is by way of a thinking that full-blown realist convictions are really very important for living a moral2 life. This parallels the thought of theists who do not trust atheists. Following the first path, someone might think that being a moral realist involves nothing more than making moral judgments through a process of rational reflection.3 When, for example, Brett considers the interests of others in deciding how to act, he is essentially asking himself, “What sort of behavior can I endorse as one rational agent among many?” The decisions that emerge from such reflections, at least when they are successful, are judgments that not only reflect the agent’s personal interests, but also a more general interest in acting in ways that a rational agent, perhaps all rational agents, can endorse. And insofar as that’s the case, what agents such as Brett are really doing, in spite of their avowals to the contrary, is aiming to do the right thing. They are moral realists in spite of themselves. While some may find this sort of account compelling, I simply fail to see why engaging in rational reflection of a practical nature amounts to moral realism. It’s one thing to employ one’s capacity to reason in deciding what to do, another to think that the practical question one faces has a correct answer—that is, an

There are strains of such a view in Korsgaard (1996).


answer that is correct for reasons that do not depend on the particular desires or interests one happens to have. Of course, it depends on what one means by “rational.” If, on the one hand, being rational is more or less a matter of being logically consistent, a matter of being “thinly rational,” then it’s just false to say that one cannot make rational decisions that show concern for the interests of others without believing that there is a fact of the matter concerning whether those decisions are morally correct. What about more substantive notions of rationality, so-called “thick rationality?” Such notions are irrelevant here. Holding out for some more substantive notion of rationality might save internalism, but it’s beside the point in this case. Brett, and people in general, need not be thickly rational. My claim is only that it’s possible to be morally2 motivated without being a moral realist. If it turns out that one can’t be motivated by concerns for the interests of others and exhibit a certain kind of substantive rationality without being a moral realist, then so be it. This is just an another instance of a familiar problem with rationalist ethics. The more substantive morality one packs into “rationality” the more optional “rationality” becomes.4 The first path to conflating morality1 and morality2 makes the issue a conceptual one. From the armchair one (fallaciously) deduces that being moral2 is just a matter of being rational. The second path, in contrast, depends on a bold empirical claim about moral psychology, and now, having considered some relevant moral psychology in Chapter 3, we are in a position to handle this objection. Once again, we are considering the claim that one cannot be reliably

See Section 2.4.2.


” Such behavior may not be “moral” in the ordinary sense since the ordinary sense conflates morality1 and morality2. The social impulses that give rise to morality2 were in play long before there were people and long before anyone ever bothered to ask. “But is there really any fact of the matter about what’s right or what’s wrong?” Chimpanzees certainly exhibit moral2 behavior. the meta-ethical question simply never arises. are thrown in jeopardy as he wavers between philosophical conclusions? Absurd! Chimpanzee mothers care for their young not because they believe that doing so is morally required of 5 That is. See Section 1. developed and refined over thousands. even millions. many of his most basic social impulses. But why should one say that? A creature develops the cognitive capacity required for raising certain kinds of philosophical questions.2. For them.motivated to behave morally2 unless one is a moral realist. then. at the very least. all of a sudden.5 but it would be a bit of a stretch to say that chimpanzees are generally moral realists. it’s possible for chimpanzees to be morally2 motivated without being moral realists. behavior “of or relating to serving (or refraining from undermining) the interests of others. The right thing to say about them is that they are neither realists nor anti-realists. one cannot be morally2 motivated without being a moral realist. it would be a stretch to call them anti-realists. Likewise. Are we humans unable to do the same? Perhaps one will say that insofar as one is capable of raising the metaethical question. one who believes in morality1. 217 . and then. of years of evolution. But if that’s right. Our discussion in Chapter 3 suggests that morality2 precedes morality1 in almost every way.

1984).7 Lawrence Kohlberg (1969. 1984). is Stage 5. say. A nice illustration of this realist-rationalist tendency to turn philosophical inclinations into universal principles of moral psychology is the discussion among moral psychologists surrounding the “Raskolnikov regression” (Fishkin. A later stage. “Do I really have a moral obligation to care for my child?” but the fact that she can ask this question doesn’t mean that her basic motivation for raising her children is radically different from those of a chimpanzee. is Stage 6 in which one bases one’s moral judgments on “principles of choice involving appeal to logical university and consistency” (1984. the archetypal rationalist moral psychologist and moral realist. One of the earlier stages of moral development is Stage 2. the emotional dog wags the rational tail.) Kohlberg was surprised to 6 As opposed to. not attained by all. 44). while in search of a justification for acting upon her preexisting frustrations with motherhood. A human mother who asks this question in a spirit of rational inquiry6 is not at all likely to abandon her children if she ultimately comes to the conclusion that she has no such obligation. Fortunately for us and our genes.. A human mother can ask. attained by only a select few. 7 My thanks to Joshua Knobe for bringing this issue to my attention.them. pp.” (The final stage. characterized by a “naively egoistic orientation” (1984. 43-4). 218 . characterized by a “contractual legalistic orientation. pg. but because that’s what chimpanzee mothers do. is known for his theory of moral development according to which individuals pass through an invariant sequence of stages of moral development.

i. in the absence of moral1 commitments of the sort that define Kohlberg’s later moral stages. Subjectivism thus constitutes a basic challenge to the root assumptions of the Kohlberg theory. There is no place in Kohlberg’s scheme for meta-ethical questioning except for the gaps between stages. a stage typically associated with young children. 167). morally2. According to Fishkin (pg. none of these moves is satisfactory. 1984. Morality1 is not 219 .e. places them back in Stage 2.find that many college students who were previously identified as Stage 5 moral reasoners were suddenly espousing a “relativistic” or “subjectivist” moral outlook which. realist and proto-rationalist) moral thought could regress back into putatively child-like moral reasoning (Fishkin. This challenge derives from the fact that Kohlberg’s classifications are primarily normative ethical but the phenomenon of subjectivism is essentially meta-ethical. according to Kohlberg’s scheme. Kohlberg struggled in a number of ways to account for this phenomenon in which individuals who once exhibited fairly sophisticated (i. Our meta-ethical views concerning the truth of moral realism are not without consequences—or so I shall argue—but their effects are marginal compared to those that flow from our more basic social natures. The human social instincts that undergird our commitment to morality2 run deep. 162-8).e. Kohlberg’s claim that a “subjectivist” or “relativist” cannot be a moral adult are strikingly similar to those made by realists who would insist from their armchairs that one cannot behave like a moral adult.

though it bears some brief amplification. The “ought” here is “hypothetical” not “categorical.” To take an instance of the simplest sort of case. This does not mean.” “right. it is. my ordering the soup is the right thing to do. 4.” and “better. which states of affairs are better than others.4. however. I ought to order the soup. if I want soup and not salad. according to the argument in Section 3.only distinct from morality2. indicate judgment 220 . then. which actions are right or wrong. and yet I am in the process of developing a practical proposal for how we should think and talk about moral matters. facts which in turn may make for meaningful evaluation using words like “ought. as I use them. a byproduct of our efficiently implemented capacity for moral2 judgment. am I doing in making this proposal? Am I not saying that my proposal is right? Better than its alternatives? A proposal we ought to take seriously? Have I not denied the possibility of meaningful evaluation only to presuppose it? No. And the reason should now be clear. What.1. What I claim is that there is no fact of the matter about what one ought to do. that there are no facts concerning which actions and states of affairs are favored by our values and/or desires. ceteris paribus.” These terms.3 Objective and Subjective Evaluation I’ve denied that there is any fact of the matter concerning what we ought to do. etc.” as are the “right” and “better. then. and my receiving the soup is better than my receiving the salad.

in its own way. one grounded in the desires and values of particular humans such as myself. whether or not these esoteric accounts of moral language/concepts are compatible with the projectivist/social intuitionist account of moral psychology developed in the last chapter. At the heart of any version of analytic naturalism is an account of what certain moral terms mean. 221 . etc. distorts the meanings of moral terms. and what a term means is partially. if not entirely. and not an objective standard.1. then. a psychological matter. variable moral frameworks. to the extent that I use such terms. and I will attempt to avoid the problematic ones so far as this is possible.4 Analytic Naturalism Revisited In Chapter 2 we considered several versions of analytic naturalism and rejected them on the grounds that each of them. we are now in a position to give a more unified account of why these theories fail. We might consider. Having discussed a bit of moral psychology. For now.2) that some of these evaluative terms are more problematic than others. I simply wish to make it clear that. 4. they reflect imperatives that are merely “hypothetical” and evaluations that are ultimately subjective.according to a subjective standard. I will argue later (in Section 5. The accounts of moral language and concepts offered by analytic naturalists are inevitably esoteric—recall that they must be indirect to dodge Moore’s Open Question Argument—making reference to idealized rational agents.

we simply see the world in moral terms. Rarely do we make moral judgments through the deliberate application of moral principles to particular circumstances. rather.” One can say without contradiction that one finds incest thoroughly disgusting but believes that it’s not wrong. then Smith’s analysis is comparably implausible. According to Smith’s account (slightly modified). Rather. is that the thought that incest is wrong tends to be grounded in an affective response. when it comes to moral psychology. In the last chapter (Section 3. “gilding and staining” the world with “colours borrowed from internal sentiment. not the other way around. 222 .4) I compared judgments of moral wrongness to judgments of sexiness. Once again. one involving a certain kind of morally-laden disgust.Let us begin with Michael Smith’s view. If your heart beats more than once a month you know that “sexy” does not mean “that with which I would desire to engage sexually if I were fully informed and fully rational.” and.” but not “equivalent to.” To find something morally repugnant one need not have any thoughts 8 “Closer to. My point.” The thought that “Incest is wrong!” is much closer to8 “Incest! Yuck!” than it is to “Incest: Something of which we would disapprove if we were fully informed and fully rational. the emotional dog wags the rational tail. arguing that they are comparable instances of affectively laden projection. the most explicitly rationalist form of analytic naturalism we’ve considered. what we mean when we say that an action is “wrong” is that it’s something of which we would disapprove if we were fully informed and fully rational. if the comparison between sexiness and wrongness is a fair one.

To drive this point home.4.(explicit or implicit) about fully informed and fully rational individuals and their proclivities. Given the intuitive and emotional nature of moral judgment. the only way that Smith’s account of moral concepts could be correct for humans is if human moral judgment is radically different from chimpanzee moral judgment. and for this reason we should be skeptical of any theory of moral meaning that turns basic moral thought into an esoteric affair. The evidence strongly suggests that human morality is emotional and intuitive.9 It’s hard to believe that those angry chimps were thinking anything even close to. but they don’t read Kant. consider the chimpanzees who displayed their moral (proto-moral?) indignation in punishing a pair of adolescent group members for having delayed the group’s feeding the evening before.) Therefore. This is very doubtful. The same objection applies to the other forms of analytic naturalism we have considered. Recall the discussion of Jackson’s view in Section 2. one should be able to think of something as morally wrong without 9 See Section 3. It’s similarly unlikely that “wrong” means “having the property that plays the wrongness role according to mature folk morality”10 in the minds of either chimps or humans. 10 223 .3. a matter of drawing conclusions about the desires of idealized rational agents rather than responding emotionally and intuitively to certain kinds of behavior. “Those two adolescents have done something of which we would disapprove if we were fully informed and fully rational!” (Chimps may be smart.5. with its roots in primate morality.

much closer to “Yuck! That’s just plain wrong!” where the “just plain” suggests. one’s thought is not first and foremost. Section 2. “wrong according to our moral framework” (Harman. the psychology of moral judgment suggests that one can have thoughts about right and wrong without having such esoteric thoughts as those concerning that which we would desire to desire under conditions of “full imaginative acquaintance.having any thoughts about which properties play which roles according to idealized versions of our current moral theories. The wrongness of incest need not strike the conceptually competent as any more culturally relative than the greenness of leaves. when one sees something as wrong.4. among other things. In many cases at least. In light of the projective nature of moral “perception. one projects wrongness onto it and thus sees that something as having a mind-independent property of wrongness. once again. the thought is.”11 What we know about moral psychology makes similar trouble for relativist analytic naturalism.3. 1996). One does not see the wrongness as coming from oneself or as flowing from a particular society’s norms any more than one sees sexy things as sexy in virtue of one’s psychological projections or the content of local standards of sexiness. “That is disallowed by the norms that happen to be in place here and now!” For most people. Likewise. say. according to which “wrong” means. that the observed wrongness is absolute and not relative. When one is struck by the apparent wrongness of an act of. incest.” it would be strange if the sort of sophisticated detachment that relativism requires were built into the concepts that give rise to basic moral 11 See discussion of Lewis’ view. roughly. 224 .

or so we assume. What function? Surely there is no single answer. and this would be stranger still in the case of our nearest living relatives. the radical nihilist’s answer. approximations of the correct norms. Maintaining such a world requires the existence of widely-observed norms for behavior and an ongoing discussion concerning how those norms should evolve in the future. they are simply norms. To a realist. To an anti-realist. 4. e.” But radical nihilism is not a live option for most of us because most of us. we12 would like them to promote 12 Most of us. guidelines for behavior that perform a function. these norms are. at least in some cases. One answer. still want to live in a moral2 world. even upon rejecting moral realism. part of what we want is knowledge of Moral Truth. a world in which people care about one another’s well-being and regulate their behavior accordingly.thought in humans.2 Assessing Our Moral Practices What do we want from morality? If we are moral realists. Having rejected moral realism. But this is not the case for most moral norms. Some norms perform functions that are not generally useful. 225 . keeping power and privilege in the hands of a few.g. is “Nothing. both for its own sake and as a means to living rightly. Regardless of what moral norms actually do. we must ask what else we might want from morality. anyway.

happiness. understanding. Our moral language is thoroughly realist. Geoffrey Sayre-McCord (1988. “The plausibility of anti-realism… depends largely on preserving our normal ways of speaking even while challenging the natural (though perhaps naïve) realistic interpretation of what is being said. He thinks that our rejection of realism should be contingent on our being able to go on talking like realists! Simon Blackburn (1984. Once again. respect for others. How exactly these ends are to be furthered and what tradeoffs among them are desirable and/or tolerable is a matter of much dispute. 2) tells us that.” Sayre-McCord not only thinks that it makes sense to talk like a realist after rejecting realism. honesty. which itself is no surprise given the projective nature of moral psychology. We speak as if moral facts are out there waiting to be discovered: “Does a fetus have a right to life?” “Is it wrong to kill animals for food?” “What obligations do we have toward the poor?” This comes as no surprise given that most people are moral realists. peace. 1993a) suggests that we become quasi-realists. freedom. perhaps the matter of much dispute. pg. the value of our moral practices is to be assessed solely in terms of how well they perform this function. “quasi-” because we know that moral properties are mere projections and “realists” because we 226 . we can say that the promotion of these ends in general is the practical function of morality and that. Nevertheless. etc. But does it make sense to go on talking and thinking like moral realists if there really is no fact of the matter about what’s right and wrong? The surprising answer given by most philosophers who have considered the issue is Yes. in the absence of moral realism.

is none of these. 1980). 1971. our thought.nevertheless think and talk just like realists except. we would be wise to modify our moral practices so that they give us the fullest possible moral2 227 . Some anti-realist philosophers describe themselves as constructivists (Rawls. speaking like a realist when it suits him (Blackburn. it’s an important foil in the present discussion. perhaps. the one most likely to further our ultimate aims as moral2 people. to a large extent. I believe that the best option. Even John Mackie (1977) appears inclined toward something like fictionalism. is nihilism (or. While this is not a serious option for those of us who appreciate the extremely important function that morality (i. and anti-realists appear eager to preserve our moral practices in their present form for fear that in abandoning them we will have no option other than nihilism. They deny that there are full-blown moral facts. but argue that there are moral “facts” that may be “constructed” according to a certain rational procedure that may serve as fullblown facts for practical purposes. 1993a. Richard Joyce (2001) suggests that we become fictionalists. “radical nihilism”) by which we would give up on morality altogether. A wholly different anti-realist option. morality2 ) performs. recognizing that moral realism is false while maintaining the fiction that it is true through our language and. Thus. 149-50). there is nothing wrong with our realist moral talk. or forsaking it (nihilism). pp. quasi-realism). according to this view as well. remaking it (constructivism). I’ve suggested that realists fail to take anti-realism seriously because they think it leads to nihilism. Rather than faking it (fictionalism.e. to be safe. in moments of metaethical reflection. mentioned above.

The phenomenology of moral judgment is misleadingly realist. Our experience of the moral world is as such because moral judgments are “easy. The key to understanding why our current moral practices are so fraught with problems and how these problems might be avoided lies in moral psychology. which things are right or wrong. 4.” They are produced by automatic. as opposed to figuring out. and intuitive processes akin to those that allow us to immediately and reliably sort human faces by sex. not produced by episodes of reasoning. Moral judgment is for the most part intuitive and emotional. but the judgments themselves are. The automatic nature of these processes results in an experience of seeing. and typically do when our judgments are questioned. let us briefly review the key points made in the last chapter. although people tend to think that they are. confusion. unconscious. stubbornness. We see the world as having mind-independent moral properties.benefit while avoiding the ignorance. and unnecessary conflict that arise out of our adherence to moral practices that are grounded in false metaphysics. for the most part at least. 228 . We can offer reasoned justifications on behalf of our moral judgments. there to be perceived though our “moral sense.” properties like the inherent wrongness of incest.3 Moral Psychology and the Scale Problem First.

A human moral sensibility is both innate and inculturated. Of course. thus permitting some individuals to survive when they otherwise might not. Like our capacity for language. Individuals learn the local morality much as they learn the local language. the moral system that emerges from this psychology is flexible enough to allow for advantageous cultural adaptation. For example. moral development is a natural process in which one’s biological dispositions and surrounding culture interact to produce an individual who sees the world in a particular moral light. Thus. thus avoiding unnecessary opportunities for the spreading of disease and removing some nutritional incentives to violence. in conditions of relative abundance a culture might do well to discourage cannibalism under all circumstances. The basic structure of human morality is innate. To begin. Such is the nature of human morality. a culture might do well to allow some instances of cannibalism. Thus. human moral psychology does not make for radical individualism. flexibility is not an unlimited good. One can imagine the social disaster that would result from each individual’s having a propensity to fashion his own code of behavior to suit his personal circumstances. it is an emergent phenomenon. In conditions of relative scarcity. human moral psychology affords an excellent balance of social benefits to individuals living in small communities. but the “custom complexes” in which one is immersed play a crucial role in shaping the content of one’s moral sensibility. and one can see why individuals living in small communities with others who are similarly disposed would flourish. Fortunately. There is enough flexibility at 229 .

the community level to allow communities to develop norms for behavior that suit their circumstances and enough flexibility within individuals to allow them to adapt to life in whatever sort of community they happen to be born into. flexibility followed by efficiency is highly adaptive. What small communities provide. can do an incredible number of things reasonably well. is relative homogeneity. in contrast. When it comes to coordinated social behavior. this individual flexibility and the community-level flexibility that emerges from it operate within limits. At least in small communities. allowing new members of the community to pick up the local culture 13 The machines we make perform certain jobs better than we can by ourselves. among other things. At the same time. there is a natural analogy with language. In any behaving system there is always a trade-off between flexibility and efficiency. After a Chinese child has had enough exposure to her native language to understand its basic structure. that child is better off devoting her cognitive resources to becoming an efficient speaker of Chinese rather than a possible of speaker of many languages she will never need to speak.13 Once a developing human has had enough time to figure out how life is lived in her community. but each machine is limited in the jobs it can perform. either in the case of language or adherence to social norms. but increasingly few things as well as the machines we’ve devised to perform those tasks. 230 . there is little to be gained from remaining flexible in her range of social behaviors and much to be gained from having those behaviors become automatic and intuitive. Once again. Humans. Homogeneity makes for clear signals to children.

But what about larger communities? As communities grow they become increasingly heterogeneous because of their sheer size and because of the diversity of roles that individuals and groups can play within larger communities. is vastly more homogeneous than the world with which that child will ultimately interact. They’re raised by one or two parents whose values are likely to be fairly similar to one another and in a community that is far from representative of their world at large. Thus. Children aren’t raised by multicultural committees. Above I noted two effects of homogeneity. Opportunities for division of labor and specialization create a diversity of circumstances and subcultures. while not nearly as homogeneous as environments of the past. the development of human civilization has. but that’s not a problem because they’re all set in roughly the same way and their day-to-day interactions do not involve people outside of their community. while technological advances in transportation and communication bring individuals from different cultures into contact with one another. of course. Parents 231 . the ease with which it allows children to become enculturated and the ease with which it allows enculturated adults to get along with one another. It also makes for smooth interactions among adults who have developed compatible behavioral dispositions as a result of having learned those behaviors from similar environments—different houses on the same street. The adults.quickly. so to speak. But it has done so in an incomplete way. An essential feature of our current circumstances is that a modern child’s environment. disrupted the relative homogeneity of circumstances enjoyed by our ancestors. are somewhat set in their ways. for better or for worse.

The human tendency to absorb the values of one’s immediate environment and project those values onto the entire world may work well enough for life in small. In other words. Children in the developing world die of starvation because people in the developed world choose not to help them or create circumstances that make it impossible for them to help themselves. relatively isolated hunter-gatherer bands. an individual’s sphere of causal influence extends far beyond the environment that is primarily responsible for shaping her moral sensibility. but it’s absolutely disastrous for billions of people raised 232 . people raised in a particular culture had relatively little to do with cultural outsiders. In the past. and we’re still using Stone Age moral psychology. Gay couples are denied the economic benefits of marriage because their lifestyle is unacceptable to the majority of their compatriots. Today. and as a result ours is a world of people who see the world in radically different moral colors attempting to impose their respective wills on one another. but doing this does not produce children that are “omnicultural. Christian fundamentalists live with abortion laws that they would not dream of enacting themselves. but that is far from the case today.who make an effort to expose their children to different cultures perform a valuable service for their children and others. People in the developed world occasionally die when the frustrations of the developing world find expression in the form of terrorist attacks. People die in wars they do not support.” The limitations of the developing human mind make it inevitable that any given child will be a product of a particular culture or particular set of cultural influences. the Nuclear Age has arrived.

we might be able to reach some sort of compromise. and if I believe further that it’s just plain to see that my way is the way things ought to be and that anyone who says otherwise must be outright lying or willfully refusing to see the truth.in a variety of different cultures and subcultures who must share a world in spite of their incompatible worldviews.14 4. therefore we must change X. if I want things to be one way. The case for the scale problem in morality rests on the details concerning moral psychology and not on some generic argument of the form “We no longer live in the environment in which X evolved. and if I believe that the way I want things is not merely the way I want things but also the way things ought to be. My claim is simply that insofar as human moral psychology does work well for small communities. It is an illusion that exacerbates conflict and promotes misunderstanding. But. it does not work nearly as well in the modern context. and if you want things to be some other way and you’re just as 14 I do not wish to suggest any sort of “group selectionism” according to which human moral psychology evolved to make life go well for small groups of people. If I want things to be one way and you want things to be some other way.4 Moral Realism and the Revisionist Proposal Moral realism is the theoretical expression of the Stone Age moral psychology with which we are saddled.” 233 . I also do not wish to suggest that all scaling up leads to trouble. Human moral psychology doesn’t scale well.

or. both sides believe that their positions are based on reasoning about the facts and issues involved (the wag-the-dog illusion). Both sides present what they take to be excellent arguments in support of their positions. and self-righteousness of most moral arguments can now be explicated. I attempt to argue with you and am amazed at your obtuseness. And you are similarly perplexed by me and my stubbornness. consensual incest. each side concludes that the other side must be insincere. pg. or on what my friend did to your friend. closed-minded. someone who has lost the way. and yet you persist in your wrongheaded ways. politics. for whatever inexplicable reason. In this way the culture wars over issues such as homosexuality and abortion can generate morally motivated players on both sides who 234 . someone who wasn’t paying attention on the day right and wrong were explained. The words I speak so clearly reveal the truth. futility. of course. has chosen to cast aside what is right and good in favor of that which is base and evil.convinced of the rightness of your position as I am of mine. When the other side fails to be affected by such good reasons. 823) summarizes the social-intuitionist take on ordinary moral discourse: The bitterness. then what chance do we have of reaching a reasonable compromise? I see you as an errant child. Both sides expect the other side to be responsive to such reasons (the wag-the-other-dog’s-tail illusion). see me in a similar light. perhaps. as someone who was paying attention but who. In a debate on abortion. Haidt (2001. And you. or even devious….

823) suggests a shift in tactics: Moral reasoning may have little persuasive power in conflict situations. But how to clean it up? Must we resign ourselves to a world of endless conflict and misunderstanding? Haidt (Pg. & Ross. then one can influence others with one’s words. A mess. indeed.) As Haidt suggests.believe that their opponents are not morally motivated (Haidt & Hersh. Ward. plays. Moreover. and anecdotes are more effective means of propaganda than philosophical arguments and statistics. it is a lesson that most professional moral communicators have already learned from experience. No surprise that novels. however. but the social intuitionist model says that moral reasoning can be effective in influencing people before a conflict arises… If one can get the other person to see the issue in a new way. does not get to the heart of the problem. It is a gesture toward more subtle. Robinson. 2001. less explosive forms of moral warfare. a better understanding of moral psychology may be used to further one’s own moral agenda—a good or bad thing depending on the agenda in question. This. But I propose instead that we use our understanding 235 . metaphors. (I’ve never stayed in a hotel room that came furnished with a copy of Kant’s Grundlegung. not peace. 1995). Keltner. perhaps by reframing a problem to trigger new intuitions.

is to get rid of realist thinking and to start by getting rid of realist language. that it is against the teachings of your religion. Conflicts of interest may be inevitable. 829) does make some suggestions that are similar in spirit to. He proposes. may improve people’s moral thinking. learning to see moral issues from different viewpoints. then.) Speaking in this way is honest. though more moderate than. but they need not be exacerbated by people’s unflagging confidence that they’re right and that their opponents are wrong.15 Once again. and should make 15 Haidt (Pg. say that you are opposed to eating animals because you wish to alleviate suffering and you believe that this practice causes much unnecessary suffering. etc. and likely to lead to irreversible mistakes. is moral realism. that various forms of structured. And then say no more. requires no false metaphysical commitments. (Obviously some people will have an easier time with this transition than others. This is an important point to be explored later in Chapter 5. especially young people’s. Speak only in terms that make the subjective nature of value plain. Instead of saying that capital punishment is wrong say that you are opposed to it. my own.of moral psychology to transcend our ordinary modes of moral discourse rather than to operate more effectively within them. Instead of saying that eating animals is wrong and a form of murder. quite plausibly. the enemy. active engagement with moral issues.” say that it undermines your family’s values. The solution. Instead of saying that gay marriage undermines “family values. 236 . Say that it is an ineffective deterrent. the wolf in sheep’s clothing. difficult to implement in a colorblind fashion.

Thus. values. but in a purely factual discussion there is a decent chance that genuine evidence can be brought to bear on the issue.discussions of moral matters much more fruitful and. there is. failing that. what he wants. no true moral theory. Because there is no fact of the matter about what’s right or wrong. When someone makes a claim about how he feels. the language of moral realism makes an excellent smoke screen for aggressive or otherwise anti-social behavior. The language of moral realism is sufficiently rich to provide a reasonable sounding justification for just about anything a society would actually want to do. a smoke screen that is so effective 16 People on opposite sides of a practical issue will often have a hard time agreeing on the facts.” depending on your point of view) can justify their actions in terms that sound eerily similar to those used by their victims in other contexts. there is no neutral ground from which to sort out the putatively true moral claims from the ones that simply ring true to some people.16 Even where differences of value and/or factual disagreements persist. demonstrating to both parties that the evidence is inconclusive. shorter. in the absence of realist interlocutors. at the very least. resolving it in favor of one party or another or. or what he is or is not willing to accept in a negotiation. but I suspect that this is because the “facts” in such cases are not really purely factual but rather mixed up with evaluative matters as well. nothing to dispute. such a mode of discourse is likely to lead to increased mutual understanding and less exasperating huffing and puffing. Even terrorists (or “freedom fighters. When someone makes a putative statement of fact. or cares about. there is often much to dispute. 237 .

It cannot.3. people who believe that their actions are wrong and carry on just the same. People ask ‘What ought I do?’ not ‘What can I get away with?’” Arthur Schlesinger (1971) concurs: “National interest has a self-limiting factor. “It would be good for us economically. They see things this way because.” As noted above. even in most authoritarian regimes.” As does Kenneth Thompson (1985. but in real life (and good books and films) such characters are few and their influence is negligible. the moral truth that has been disregarded by their opponents is so self-evident that only one who willfully disregards morality’s requirements could think and act as their opponents do. Pg. unless transformed by an injection of moral righteousness. Has a military aggressor ever not claimed a moral right to carry out its plans? Has a nation ever been moved to war by leaders who said. 5): “Foreign policy tends to be articulated in moral terms. (See Section 5. People who are evil.) In the real world. 110). pg. One might go so far as to say that nations require the language of moral realism to marshal popular support for aggressive actions. and usually does. so why not?” As Roger Fisher says in Basic Negotiating Strategy (1971. are native to Hollywood movies and children’s books. “Governments are not like bank robbers. the vast majority of avoidable 238 . moral realists naturally interpret the actions and opinions of their (realist) opponents as products of a surreptitious disregard for morality. to them.it can. A nation with economic incentives to take over a neighbor’s territory can claim that the neighboring territory really belongs to their nation and that they have a right to it.2. and we can get away with it. produce ideological crusades for unlimited objectives. fool those who employ it.

It is a matter of understanding that the enemy is indeed “us” and not an evil and/or misguided “them. asking questions like. “Is capital punishment wrong?” and “Do the Palestinian people have a right to self-determination?” and then constructing arguments based on not-exactly-true premises so that we can then go on to say things like “No it’s not!” and “Yes they do!” As noted above. We will discuss 239 . Another anti-realist approach is to construct a true moral theory either by changing the meanings of our moral terms or by developing a theory that embodies a particular moral sensibility rather than one that is supposed to be universal. nor is it a matter of clarifying the true nature of The Good so as to inform those people(s) who somehow managed to get the moral facts wrong.” It’s a matter of understanding why we are the way we are and how we can adapt our thought and behavior to life under the unnatural conditions we have created for ourselves. In Section 4.suffering is caused by people who think they have the moral truth on their side.6 we will consider two specific proposals along these lines (quasi-realism and fictionalism) and the arguments given on their behalf. the challenge is to change the behavior of well-meaning people everywhere. many moral philosophers take themselves to be foot soldiers in a campaign of the latter sort. Of course. (In my experience. we don’t have to stop thinking and talking like moral realists just because moral realism is false. Improving the world is not a matter of getting those who aim at The Bad to aim instead at The Good. this is the standard proposal made by those who reject moral realism. We could pretend that there is a fact of the matter about what’s right and wrong.) Rather.

have compared values to colors and other “secondary qualities. their disagreement amounts to very little. g.” Both camps agree that colors and morals are in some sense minddependent.g. Before moving on we will pause to explore an oft-made analogy between moral properties and color properties that will set the stage for the upcoming critiques of the anti-realist alternatives to revisionism. And if the analogy between colors and moral values holds. 1993a). then isn’t it equally silly to change the way we think and talk about morals? 240 . They disagree about whether this mind-dependence makes color properties and moral properties less than fully real. Both would have us carry on thinking and talking about moral matters just as we do.these proposals (reforming analytic naturalism and constructivism) in Section 4. however. and both compare ordinary moral discourse to ordinary color discourse.7. McDowell. both realist (e. 4. Surely it would be silly to replace our ordinary color talk with talk about spectral reflectance properties or whatever mind-independent properties “really” exist instead of colors.5 The Analogy with Color Many philosophers.. Blackburn 1984. In practical terms. which is taken to be perfectly acceptable: Surely it would be silly to refuse to call the sky “blue” and fire trucks “red” because of what scientists have taught us about the physical/psychological bases of color. 1985) and anti-realist (e..

it is perfectly possible that there could have been creatures—call them our “color twins”—who are like us in nearly every way. The underlying metaphysics is roughly the same in both cases. Some people are color-blind.No. As a result. For every single color we see. but who stand with respect to us and our visual systems as we stand to color-blind people and their visual systems. Suppose we begin interacting with our color twins. Just as we perceive blood and grass as differently colored. they fail to perceive the colors red and green due to a deficiency in the visual subsystem that normally gives rise to our experience of these two colors. color-blind people see both blood and grass as colorless and therefore cannot distinguish between them on the basis of color. tomatoes and a fire trucks) as clearly differently colored.g. pointing to a 17 See discussion of metamers in C.17 Thus. say. they see two or more different colors. The analogy between values and secondary qualities holds. our color twins perceive many objects that look identically or similarly colored to us (e. We might not notice any difference between them and us at first. L. 241 . many of the items that normal people take to have the same color have very different spectral reflectance properties. We can imagine that this discrepancy in color perception is rather widespread. At the outset we might attempt to help them get around our cities by. Hardin (1988). but eventually we would. As it happens.. but only imperfectly. In most cases. but our circumstances with respect to these two aspects of experience are importantly different. To illustrate this point we can imagine a world in which the color-moral analogy holds better than it actually does.

at least for the purposes of communication between us and our color twins. and since they don’t exist it makes perfect sense for us to go on talking about colors just as we do. for 18 Some philosophers. But even if they are. Color twins are just a philosopher’s fantasy. would disagree.” thus making “red” in the mouths of color twins either a misunderstood term of ours or a homophonic term of theirs. The ones who object on linguistic grounds might claim that color property terms are covertly indexical and that “red” really means something like “red according to the color conventions we use.tomato and saying. of course. Each of us would change the way we communicate in order to avoid misunderstandings and. I don’t think that words like “red” are indexical in this way. say. and so on.” After enough car accidents. Only ignorant and/or foolish people would persist in.”18 It’s just that. in some cases. however. the point still remains that it would be foolish to go on talking as we do about colors while trying to get along with our color twins. As a matter of psycholinguistic fact. I reject this conflation of what is 242 . At the same time we would hope that our color twins would present things to us using color-coded diagrams that we can easily interpret. avert disaster. we would recognize the importance of modifying our color discourse. But this is not because the colors we see are the world’s “true colors. make sure you stop. making presentations with color-coded diagrams that only make sense to audience members like us and not to the color twins in the audience. Some would disagree on pragmatic grounds: If it makes sense to say that tomatoes and fire trucks are the same color then it’s true that they’re the same color. “When you see a light above the street that’s that color.

finally. In response to such philosophers I ask. This problem.19 With the exception of a few color-blind people. For an example. once again. however.. even if doing so would be more faithful to the true metaphysics of color. they might as well be the world’s true colors. some philosophers might say that our color talk is just correct. not because its terms implicitly refer to our color standards and not for pragmatic reasons. The key question in pursuing the color-morality analogy is whether or not the actual moral world is more like the actual color world or the imaginary world true with what it makes sense to say. is that in a world like the one in which our color twins are among us. The key point.most of our purposes. it no longer makes sense to speak as we do. And. would see the world incorrectly. but simply because we see the world as it truly is while our color twins. what makes our color claims true and those of our color twins false? 19 Of course.20 there is broad consensus concerning the intersubjectively verifiable aspects of color experience. is beside the point for our purposes since we’re only interested in intersubjectively verifiable differences. there’s the familiar worry about whether or not you and I really see the same things when we look at the various things we call “red. if they existed.” “blue. see Ramachandran and Hubbard (2001) for a discussion of synaesthesia. 20 There are other anomalies in color perception besides color-blindness. the so-called “inverted spectrum” problem. but no matter. 243 . much as I did with respect to morals in Chapter 2.” etc. and so it would indeed be silly to talk as if our imagined color twins lived among us.

there are many reasons why two people might see the moral world differently besides differences in cultural backgrounds. And some people even reason their way to different moral conclusions. The point here is simply that cultural differences alone are sufficient to produce “moral twins. it’s perfectly silly for them to try to influence one another with this sort of talk. People have different natural temperaments and different experiences. But there are no such facts.21 When pro-life advocates claim that a fetus has a right to life and pro-choice advocates reply that a woman has a right to choose. the analogy between moral properties and color properties speaks in favor of revisionism. Our moral twins are all around us. there’s no fact of the matter about whether a fetus’ “right to life” outweighs a woman’s “right to choose. we humans see the moral world in a variety of ways. But the analogy is. they are like you and your color twin arguing over whether or not tomatoes and fire trucks are the same color. After the discussion of moral psychology in Chapter 3 and the previous two sections in this chapter. Because of our varying cultural backgrounds. the answer is clear. The color analogy suggests a kind of “moral relativism” in the popular sense of this term: If people who see moral matters differently from us want to rape.” 244 . even within the same culture or even within the same family. if two combatants in this debate really understand what’s going on. murder and 21 Of course. then at least one of you might have a good reason to stick to your guns. If there were a fact of the matter about whether or not these items are the same color.” and. as noted above. imperfect.in which we live among our color twins. Likewise. Thus.

1 Blackburn’s Quasi-Realist Proposal Most contemporary anti-realists would preserve the way we think and talk about moral matters except in our more reflective. that implies nothing about how we ought (subjectively speaking) to differ in our behavior. we are likely to have very different practical agendas. I am most certainly not advocating this sort practical relativism. that’s no worse than their using color-coded diagrams that make sense to them but not to us. 245 . unlike you. The analogy breaks down because of a crucial difference between the respective natures of color and value.6. Values are not. the analogy continues to hold. if I am a woman who values social and political independence. Insofar as we are talking about aesthetics. 4. Perhaps the most prominent version of this position is Simon Blackburn’s quasi-realism (1984.6 Faking It: Quasi-Realism and Fictionalism 4. but it does not provide one with ends.pillage.22 If I. see fire trucks and tomatoes as similarly colored. Colors are (more or less) practically neutral. philosophical moments. 22 Perhaps it gives one certain aesthetic ends. In contrast. and you are a woman who shuns these things. Seeing the world within a particular chromatic framework allows one to make certain discriminations. and the meta-ethical facts give us no reason to abandon these agendas.

I think some serious changes are in order.23 This is all to the good. There’s the “Hurrah!” operator “H!” for expressing positive attitudes and the “Boo!” operator for expressing negative attitudes. the “Geach-Frege” problem (Geach.” By putting an attitude expression inside a pair of “|” one 23 That is. and fending off accusations of nihilism. working out the details of his projectivist picture. Mackie makes no proposals that are grounded in any obvious way in his meta-ethical views. over the issue of revisionism. is a projectivist anti-realist with no inclinations toward nihilism. one might express one’s negative attitude toward lying by saying. Blackburn (1984) sketches a formal semantics for quasi-realist moral discourse. Where Blackburn and I part ways is. 1965). 246 . Blackburn. Thus. like myself and John Mackie. he thinks that it’s more or less inevitable that we talk about moral matters the way we do. but with evaluative operators instead of evaluative predicates. beginning with the second. I will now argue against both of these claims. once again. “B!(lying)” and one’s approval of going to church on Sunday by saying “H!(going to church on Sunday). He imagines a language much like English.1993a). In the process of defending his quasi-realist descendant of expressivism against expressivism’s old nemesis. Much of Blackburn’s efforts are aimed at attacking moral realists for their metaphysical extravagance. whereas he not only denies that there are good reasons to make such changes. He also raises doubts about John Mackie’s (1977) error theory on the grounds that Mackie takes apparently no interest in revising our moral practices. particularly when it comes to the language of moral discourse.

pg. will look just like ordinary moral language. all of which are designed to make his prototypical moral language into “an instrument of serious. but a kind of practical and/or psychological coherence. 152). Blackburn supposes that this language. moralizing1]. evaluative. 247 . 24 The coherence here is not logical coherence. reflective.|B!(getting little brother to lie)|).e. properly fleshed out.” and one can express one’s approval of moral sensibilities that reject lying only if they reject getting one’s little brother to lie by saying.” Blackburn adds an uncertainty operator “?” and some other devices. able to express concern for improvements. “H!(|B!(lying)|. one can express disdain for those who approve of lying by saying “B!|H!(lying)|. pg. practice. and one can denote the conditional coupling of two attitudes by separating two attitude expressions with a “.can refer to that attitude or to sensibilities that endorse that attitude. Paralleling modus ponens. clashes.” (1984.|B!(getting little brother to lie)|)” without also endorsing the claim “B!(getting little brother to lie). one cannot coherently24 endorse the claims “B!(lying)” and “H!(|B!(lying)|.” (1993a. thus showing that a moral discourse that is expressivist at its core can “earn the right” to the apparently realist language we currently use. deductive logic. thus vindicating quasi-realism. implications.. and coherence of attitudes.” And with all of this come rules of inference that parallel those of standard. 195).” Thus. He goes so far as to declare that all revisionist projectivists will ultimately “find themselves indulging in a practice that is apparently identical with moralizing [i.

rather than evolving into ordinary moral talk. All of this “Boo!” and “Hurrah!” stuff is a bit awkward for everyday use. namely any suggestion of moral realism. namely…” and so on. One can “Boo!” and “Hurrah!” all day long and never sound like a realist. But Blackburn has the right idea. etc. and so forth. evaluative practice” with all the bells and whistles: notions of consistency. His prototypical moral language does. not exactly. and so on. although it could catch on. could just as easily evolve into a sophisticated kind of moral2 talk. 379) acknowledges in passing that “something like a Boo-Hooray Language” could 248 .” and “We are against X for the same reason we’re opposed to Y. In a later work. One can say “Boo!” to sensibilities that are uncertain about saying “Hurrah!” to sensibilities that endorse sensibilities that approve of deceiving people but not of deceiving cows. one without the usual moral1 overtones—in other words. uncertainty. His language has the potential to be “an instrument of serious. as advertised.The great irony in this is that Blackburn has just given us a scaffold on which to construct a moral language that is transparently anti-realist and decidedly not identical to ordinary moralizing1. we can stick with more familiar subjective expressions such as “I’m opposed to X. and never come one bit closer to suggesting that there is any fact of the matter about what anyone ought to do. For now. even if he doesn’t know it. Blackburn’s proto-language. or need not. pg.25 25 Or didn’t at the time. exactly what we’re looking for! Well. mirror ordinary moral1 language in many ways. second order attitudes. reflective.” “I find X unacceptable. have. But there is one feature that it does not. Blackburn (1993b.

projectivists who aren’t nihilists. chief among them the fact that individuals absorb the local morality and then project it onto the world at large. 26 That is. realist moral language against those of using a strictly moral2 language of the kind he’s inadvertently devised because he simply assumes that ordinary moral1 discourse is the best sort of moral discourse to which we could hope to “earn the right.3 I argued that this psychological tendency.” Is it? Here my argument is little more than a reminder of what’s already been said. then. How. In serve as an alternative anti-realist discourse. In Chapter 3 I developed an empirically based. projectivist picture of moral psychology with some unanticipated features that make trouble for quasi-realism down the line. should we decide whether or not to persist with ordinary moral discourse? Like nearly everyone else. does not scale well. He never weighs the costs and benefits of using ordinary. Blackburn takes it for granted that it would be a good thing to hold on to our ordinary moral discourse. In Section 4.But is it the right idea? The fact that Blackburn was wrong to think that revisionist projectivists26 have to end up speaking like ordinary moralists1 doesn’t mean he was wrong to think that they should.4 I laid out the revisionist alternative to moral1 discourse and explained why it is likely to avoid some of these problems. He views the revisionist challenge not as a progressive program with a worthy practical agenda but as a persnickety philosopher’s attempt to spoil the party. encouraged by realist language. In Section 4. 249 . exacerbating conflict and causing much unnecessary strife and misunderstanding.

it may still be a quasi-duck if it manages to walk like one. insofar as these arguments are compelling. Blackburn says that if it’s not a mind-independent duck. Thus. then it’s a duck. properties that many take to be projected. The debate between Mackie (1977) and McDowell over whether moral properties are real and over whether moral judgments may be true is ultimately a debate about the nature of truth. Blackburn. 171) describes the project of moral quasi-realism as one of showing that our ordinary moral talk is not so “diseased” as Mackie and others have claimed.Section 4. ultimately speaks against the preservation of ordinary moral discourse. McDowell and like-minded realists go further and say that if it walks like a duck. the burden is on the quasi-realist to explain why ordinary moral language is worth preserving. Mackie says that if it’s not a mind-independent duck. Blackburn (1984. then it’s not really a duck. pg. The argument made here against Blackburn also applies to realists like McDowell (1985) who wish to assimilate moral properties to secondary properties such as colors.5 I explained how analogizing moral properties to color properties.” but with arguments that are nowhere anticipated by Blackburn. mind-dependent or 250 . and others favor a more inclusive view that will accommodate truths that fall short of being accurate characterizations of a mind-independent world. I’ve argued that our ordinary moral talk is precisely “diseased. Mackie holds out for something like a strict “correspondence” theory of truth while McDowell. But now that the debate has shifted into the practical domain we can bypass these familiar and apparently endless debates about the nature of truth.

and for this reason I will take Joyce’s view as representative of the fictionalist viewpoint. My case against McDowell et al. of his own position? It would be inferior if. he believes it is an effective device for combating akrasia or weakness of the will. Realism and realist talk blinds us to the practical advantages of revisionism. it obscured some important truth. More specifically. 4.2 Joyce’s Fictionalist Proposal Another anti-realist approach to moral practice is fictionalism. In The Myth of Morality (2001) Richard Joyce mounts what I take to be the most elaborate and compelling defense of fictionalism currently available. however natural. but nevertheless advocates maintaining the fiction that moral realism is true.27 Speaking as if moral properties were out there in the world is. But what truth would this be?” Answer: the terrible. A general habit of thinking of some things as 27 McDowell (1985) writes. in eschewing the projectivist metaphysical framework. “Can a projectivist claim that the position I have outlined is at best a notational variant.not. and no adequate theory of truth will require us to speak foolishly. perhaps an inferior notational variant. a foolish thing to do. 251 . The fictionalist accepts that moral realism is false. at least in most contexts. horrible truth about morality and what to do about it.6. is the same as my case against Blackburn: It doesn’t even walk like a duck. Joyce recommends preserving our realist moral discourse because it is useful.

etc. one who would like to resist the temptation to shoplift will be that much more likely to succeed if he can tell himself that doing so would be wrong. wrong. gives us insight into our own lives. I believe his account (1) underestimates the costs of fictionalism by ignoring the effects of realist thought and language on public life in a pluralistic world. and 252 . etc. Joyce argues that we can enjoy the benefits of pretending to believe in morality1 without too much psychological strain. doing this is quite healthy because engagement with fictional narratives helps us regulate our emotions. even if one acknowledges in moments of meta-ethical reflection that nothing is really right. (3) underestimates the difficulties associated with maintaining the moral fiction in ordinary discourse. Joyce’s case for fictionalism is surprisingly good. Nevertheless. Reading novels and watching films requires no strange delusional beliefs. obligatory. (2) underestimates the benefits of revisionism by overlooking certain useful ways of thinking and talking that are available to revisionists. For example. Moreover. He compares this fictionalist practice to that of engaging with literary fictions.wrong and other things as right or obligatory is a good way to make sure that one is not lured into immorality2 by life’s temptations. telling yourself that you must and pretending to believe it may help keep you in line. much as one can motivate oneself to do all fifty push-ups by saying to oneself “Must do all fifty push-ups!” Joyce argues that while it’s not true that you must do fifty push-ups. On the contrary.

my case against realist discourse is entirely unanticipated. Thus. I’ve argued that the main problem with realist moral discourse is that it exacerbates conflict and generally makes it harder for people with conflicting values and/or interests to get along.28 First. Joyce assumes that one must either think in pseudorealist terms or in egoistic terms. Joyce never considers the possibility of employing a revisionist discourse of the kind I advocate. 28 Points (3) and (4) are really extensions of point (1). in making his case for fictionalism. Second. too. metaphysically speaking.(4) overestimates the benefits of aiming for a smooth transition away from realism. Joyce simply assumes that ordinary realist discourse is the way to go. He never considers the possibility that there might be serious practical costs associated with realist thought and language. at one point he implicitly assumes that a hospital “ethics committee” (shudder quotes are Joyce’s) that eschews realist moral discourse would have to make their decisions concerning whether or not to conduct secret drug trials. provided that we can find a good rationale for keeping it in spite of its false presuppositions. here. For example. much as I’m happy to retain ordinary color discourse even if color properties are. Joyce’s focus is entirely on the function of morality under conditions of uniform moral values and not under conditions of moral disagreement or conflict. Like Blackburn. In accordance with the standard conflation of morality1 and morality2. Were our values more uniform. 253 . I’d be happy to be a quasi-realist or a fictionalist. on a par with moral properties. surgical operations without consent.

” But why should he not experience the sickening feeling of having betrayed his core values? According to Joyce. 225-7) imagines three possible agents faced with a choice of whether to join an unscrupulous friend in shoplifting. from an egoistic standpoint (Pg. 227).29 Agent 3. all without any suggestion that there is a fact of the matter about what they ought to do. But why should Agent 3 have “nothing to say?” Why can’t he say. Joyce (Pp. But is it lacking moralization1 or moralization2? One who has rejected morality1 may 29 As Joyce describes the case. etc. 220). all that stands between Agent 3 and a life of petty thievery is a mere “habit. In another case. “It’s against everything I stand for! I couldn’t live with myself as a thief!” Joyce (Pg. Agent 1 is a moral realist who resists in the usual way. the chances of getting caught are negligible. by thinking that it would be wrong to shoplift. 226) claims that if Agent 3 were to give in to temptation “it’s not clear that he would feel anything more than surprise at having done so. has. 254 . the freedom of patients to guide their medical care. They could talk about their values and act on them.” flimsy for having not been “moralized” (Pg. Agent 2 is a fictionalist who resists by telling himself and pretending to believe that it would be wrong to shoplift. “nothing to say” to himself and to his friend about why he shouldn’t shoplift and is therefore more likely than his realist and fictionalist counterparts to give in to temptation. But this is simply false. according to Joyce.surreptitious acts of euthanasia. the revisionist. Members of such a committee could care very deeply about the well-being of experimental patients. and the desires of critically ill patients and their families.

and were I to stop I would consider myself diminished. if I abhor racism. and not the realist beliefs that often accompany it. If while I’m busily working I find that hunger is impeding my all-important progress. But. but I’d also be happy to stop wanting one. I desire the sandwich. Third. one with second order desires strong enough to overpower the first order desires that weak-willed children may already believe to be bad. but I am not similarly happy to stop abhorring racism. to have lost a piece of myself. my desire against stealing may be moralized2 by being deeply ingrained. but I don’t desire to desire the sandwich. If moral discourse were simply a way of bringing our thought and actions in line with a single moral system that we all accept then this might be true. Thus. Here I invoke something like David Lewis’ (1989) Frankfurtian (Frankfurt. 192-3. by my maintaining it not only as a desire. What’s missing in children who are old enough to tell you the rules but not old enough to resist breaking them is not an (implicit) commitment to realism. that allows people to combat weakness of will. once again. 1971) account of values as second-order desires. 196) that as fictionalists we can easily put aside our anti-realism when not engaged in philosophical reflection. It’s very important to me that I desire against racism.nevertheless maintain a rich and complex moral2 value structure of the sort we associate with realist moral commitments. but rather a fully developed sense of self. Joyce suggests (Pg. I believe that it is primarily this sort of psychological structure. I’d be happy to get a sandwich. In contrast. but as a desire that I desire to retain and act on. we live in a pluralistic world in which moral commitments are often challenged by 255 . I’d be happy to see racism end.

when it works. but this would not be so were we living among our color twins. confusing. it’s easy to pretend that tomatoes and stop lights really are the same color. One could do it. is a kind of benign propaganda that one applies to oneself. and while much moral talk is among parties that share the same moral viewpoint. Recall the analogy with color. but in the context of conflict with other fictionalists it becomes a kind of pointless. the revisionist need not forgo the benefits fictionalism affords in such cases. In such contexts we normally talk about first-order moral issues as if we were in search of facts. People ask “Is abortion wrong?” “Do murderers have the right to live?” and so on. In a world like ours in which everyone sees colors the same way. Fictionalism. as I argue below. 219) that thinking in moral terms in such contexts would encourage moral thought in cases in which weakness of will is an issue. It would be a bit odd for an anti-realist to use terms like “right” and “wrong” in such non-asserted contexts. 256 .those who reject them. which is the main reason that Joyce gives for adopting fictionalism. But. the moral talk that matters most may well be the moral talk among people attempting to live together in spite of their moral disagreements. much as we presently live among our moral twins. and potentially inflammatory propaganda applied to others. The problem with fictionalist discourse extends beyond cases of conflict to cases of genuine inquiry. but what would be the point? In such cases we’re not fighting weakness of the will.30 30 Joyce considers such cases and suggests (Pg.

one might think nevertheless that fictionalism can be a useful tool for fighting akrasia and regret the thoroughgoing revisionist’s categorical rejection of it for that reason. then. fictionalism is a nicer option for the near future because it will make for a smoother transition from realism. You can even pretend that marital infidelity will send you straight to Hell if that suits you. I suggest that we should revert to realist language for the sake of convenience only after anti-realism may be taken for granted. Fair enough.” because they know better and everyone knows they know better. but what we need now is as clean a break as possible with the pernicious habits of realist thought and language. even if one is convinced that revisionism is a generally better policy than fictionalism.Fourth. Students of evolution must learn that natural selection is not a forward-looking process. I take the opposite view. are free to enjoy the convenience of saying things like “Giraffes developed long necks in order to reach more food. Moral 257 . beginning students are urged not to speak in teleological terms. then why not keep it around? If telling yourself that it would be wrong to have an affair helps you remain faithful to your spouse. Consider a comparison between realist language in moral discourse and teleological language in discussions of evolution. Joyce suggests that even if the ultimate goal is revisionism. Experts. Likewise. and if one can use it without causing damage elsewhere. To help this lesson take hold. If fictionalism proves useful in navigating one’s way through the stormy waters of one’s personal life. Finally. by all means go ahead. Perhaps someday we could be fictionalists if that proved convenient. however.

Recall from Chapter 3 the central role of emotional communication in moral development. “Don’t hit your sister!” or “We don’t tolerate hitting in this house!” is likely to be just as effective as a. More seriously. Or worse. then an emotionally charged. Whether or not moral1 language is necessary for the raising of moral2 children is 258 . it’s quite likely that even if one speaks to one’s child using the sort of transparently anti-realist language I favor for adults the child will nevertheless interpret this language realistically. Thus. Is it? This seems to me unlikely.fictions maintained in the privacy of the home among consenting adults are fine with me. it might turn out that a healthy dose of moral fiction is useful or even necessary for raising moral2 children. Thus. but speaking this way won’t be pointless insofar as it will facilitate the transition to revisionism later on. Children who lack the intellectual sophistication to distinguish between morality1 and morality2 may have no choice but to be (implicit) realists insofar as they are moral2. According to the account of moral psychology given in Chapter 3. using revisionist language with young children could be pointless or even dangerous. “Hitting is wrong!” A child who is exposed to such admonishments will very likely have an implicitly realist picture of moral life in spite of what she hears. moral experience tends to have a realist phenomenology and as such inclines people toward a realist interpretation of moral rules. If the emotions are what really matter. such language may confuse the child or fail to be understood at all and thus prevent him or her from learning the important moral2 lessons she needs to learn.

7 Remaking It: Constructivism and Reforming Analytic Naturalism 4. Rawls denies that he is working out the true principles of justice and insists instead that he is uncovering the underlying principles behind one 259 . 4. but I would like to make a few remarks concerning this view since many people take it to be a viable anti-realist approach to ethics. Most of the book reads like an explication of what justice really is.1 Constructivism I will not offer a thorough critique of ethical constructivism. The archetypal constructivist is John Rawls. and if it turns out to be necessary then we can indulge our children in the realist fiction until they’re old enough to know the truth about morality. “My Conception of Justice” or “The Hyper-Egalitarian Western Liberal Conception of Justice” or something like that. 2001). and if that’s what constructivists such as Rawls are really up to then their arguments are subject to the skeptical doubts raised against realism in Chapter 2. when pressed. Elsewhere I offer a more elaborate critique of the Rawlsian account of justice (Greene and Baron. say. Santa Claus. Constructivists sound a lot like realists. and whatever else.7. However. Rawls’ magnum opus is entitled A Theory of Justice (1971) rather than.an empirical question. and I focus my brief comments on his work.

as an account of people’s sense of right and wrong. Is it? This is extremely unlikely. is highly suspect. that embody or fail to embody this more or less universal sense of justice. then it would arguably be quite appropriate to apply the labels “just” or “unjust” to institutions etc. then. Rawls’ theory of justice is a made-to- 260 . Rawls’ conception of justice is implicit in nearly everyone’s moral and political thought. and fully cooperating members of a democratic society (Rawls. 1980). implicitly share: This rendering of objectivity implies that. The question. On the one hand. Rawls’ conception of justice is highly rationalistic. especially participants in Western-style democracies.conception of justice that many people. If. rather than think of the principles of justice as true. then it would make no sense at all for him to label some institutions etc. “just” and others “unjust” when these labels indicate nothing more than compliance or failure to comply with principles that accurately reflect his sense of justice and no one else’s. on the other hand. it is better to say that they are principles of justice most reasonable for us given our conception of persons as free and equal. If Rawls’ conception of justice were thoroughly idiosyncratic. and from Chapter 3 we know that rationalism as an account of moral psychology. is whether or not Rawls’ conception of justice is sufficiently universal to warrant the adoption of apparently realist language for evaluative public discourse. It’s unlikely that Rawls’ principles accurately reflect anyone’s intuitive sense of justice including John Rawls.

it would be. pp. 46-53). 261 . in purely self-interested terms. for reasons that are hardly compelling.order illustration of the sort of post-hoc rationalization that Haidt’s social intuitionist model finds in nearly all moral reasoning31 and that casuistic moral philosophers so readily dismantle.32 why 31 At a crucial point in Rawls’ discussion (1971. See the discussion of the method of reflective equilibrium in Rawls (1971. Would anyone without an ulterior motive really take this decision principle seriously? (Remember that it’s supposed to a be a principle for purely self-interested choice. one that gives absolute priority to increasing the position of those worst off in society. a principle of maximum risk aversion. that they would use a “maximin” principle.) Would Rawls do so if it didn’t give him the sort of egalitarian outcome that he wants out of a theory of justice? 32 Which he essentially does. According to this principle. Rawls decides. the various sorts of societies they might create for themselves while not knowing which positions in society they would occupy. from a selfinterested point of view. more rational to lottery oneself into a society in which everyone is very poorly off than into a society in which everyone is fabulously well off except for one person who is slightly less well off than the people in the first society. 150-161). pp. the normative upshot of his view depends on which principle for choice under uncertainty the individuals behind the veil of ignorance would use in ranking. But even if Rawls grants that his theory is an attempt at post-hoc rationalization of his more basic moral intuitions.

offends our sense of justice because we have a negative emotional response to it (Greene et al. These various conceptions of justice may overlap in content. direct moral theory. like the human language instinct. unlike the first. 2001). there is good evidence to suggest that the second action. there are likely to be many different conceptions of justice. In other words. but also to the highly complex and biologically unprecedented circumstances of modern life? There’s a reason why no one has ever formulated an intuitively satisfying. 262 . Most people also say that it’s not okay to push a large stranger in front of the trolley in order to save the five people on the tracks. just as there are many different languages. Most people say that it’s okay to hit the switch so that the trolley runs over one person instead of five. is universal in form but local in content.should one think that there even is a snappy set of principles that captures his or anyone else’s sense of justice? Remember the trolley problem. The second action offends our sense of justice.3.1 on direct v. that the trolley problem intuitions mentioned above hold cross-culturally 33 See Section 2. then why should we expect our emotional responses to parallel a nice. for example.33 But it’s worse than that. neat theory of justice that will apply not only to situations like those that arose during the time when our social-emotional dispositions evolved. Once again. If Haidt is right in claiming that our emotions come first with our moral judgments and rationalizations thereof following after. The first one does not. It may turn out.. The preceding account of moral psychology maintains that the human moral instinct. indirect moral theories.

given the fact that Americans include people from many different cultures. Hoping for nationwide consensus seems incredibly optimistic when Rawls’ conception of justice won’t even fly with certain members of his own department (Nozick. that would be a different story. But even if we limited ourselves to. George Lakoff (1996) makes a strong case that conservatives and liberals have very different moral worldviews. Might there not be a conception of justice that is common to. third-generation U. but I’ll be darned if deep down Robert Nozick’s sense of justice is captured by Rawls’ hyper-egalitarian 34 I’ve argued elsewhere (Greene et al. all Americans? Again. we wouldn’t get what we’re after. “It’s wrong to kill one person in order to save several others when killing the one person involves an ‘up close and personal’ interaction and killing the others does not. white.and that other intuitions do so as well.. If Rawls were offering us an account of the truth about justice rather than a common sense of justice. say.34 Perhaps that’s expecting too much. say.” 263 . 1974). Nevertheless. I doubt that this psychological distinction is likely to map onto any sort of normative distinction that we would want to endorse as part of a larger normative theory because such a principle would end up being something like.S. 2001) that the intuitive difference between the trolley and footbridge cases turns on an intuitive psychological distinction between what I call “personal” and “impersonal” harm. not likely. it is highly unlikely that there will be anything close to cross-cultural consensus on general principles for organizing the basic structure of society. worldviews that are unlikely to be compatible with a single moral construction. citizens.

especially everyday 264 . that we change what we mean by our moral terms so as to generate. after realizing that there are no analyses of moral terms that yield useful moral principles. This would be a silly thing to do. moral principles that are true by dint of meaning.” For one thing. as a practical anti-realist proposal. since this is supposed to be a practical proposal.4 I applied some of the psychological lessons from Chapter 3 to the case of analytic naturalism. the view according to which there are substantive moral principles that are true by dint of meaning. it’s not at all clear how one goes about deliberately changing the way people use words. Rawlsian constructivism makes the same mistake as Blackburn’s quasi-realism and Joyce’s fictionalism.” 4.difference principle. Here I tie up a loose end from the aforementioned discussion in Chapter 2.” “just” or “unjust. In Section 4. The analytic naturalist. by an act of linguistic will.1. kind of like making yourself “rich” by using the word “rich” to mean what we normally mean by “poor.7. might go on to recommend. It assumes that there is sufficient uniformity in people’s underlying moral outlooks to warrant speaking as if there is a fact of the matter about what’s “right” or “wrong. In the end. offering a general account of these theories that explains why they are bound to fail.2 Reforming Analytic Naturalism In Chapter 2 I argued against realist versions of analytic naturalism.

265 . Second. because direct. such principles offer no help in adjudicating among them.” At best. which would only lead to more confusion. if some clever philosophers manage to get their hands on this special moral theory before it’s taken hold. And which reforming definitions would we choose? If we had a basis for making that decision we’d be well ahead of where we are. Whenever someone asks whether some action is “wrong” we’d have to say that we really don’t know since we don’t know what our fully informed and fully rational counterparts would say or do. If all concerned parties have the same intuitions. but for practical purposes they’re no help at all.” as. once again. “that which we would desire against if we were fully informed and fully rational. If people have different moral intuitions. the analytic naturalist’s moral principles are always indirect35 which means that they never offer any real guidance. general analytic principles fall prey to Moore’s open question argument. Of course. say.” then we would end up sounding a lot like moral skeptics. the change would be incomplete. we might think that our own moral intuitions offer some guidance in this regard. we could 35 This is. a half-baked notion of an inkling of a thought about how we might make true moral principles out of nothing. then there’s no practical need to appeal to moral principles. The more reasonable hope in the neighborhood of analytic naturalism is that we might someday come to a consensus about how we ought to organize our public and private lives and that maybe.words like “right” and “wrong. If we were to redefine “wrong. Reforming analytic naturalism is a non-starter. thus defeating whatever purpose there may have been in preserving an illusion of realism.

and to some extent you can change the way people think by changing the language they use. But trying to foist one’s substantive moral views on the rest of the world by changing the meanings of words would be foolish even if it were possible. And perhaps someday they will. Like many philosophers. This could be true without making much trouble for the revisionist program. I’m somewhat optimistic about the long-term possibility for moral convergence. I also allowed that realist talk may be useful in certain private contexts and therefore made a similar caveat pertaining to those cases.attempt to institutionalize it by building it into our language. Can such a case be made? Realist talk has a nice ring to it. however. as we would simply allow or even encourage realist dialogue with those who are too young to handle the meta-ethical truth. but you can’t create substantive moral truths by rewriting the dictionary. I’m not immune to the thought that if everyone were sufficiently well-educated and clear-headed they would see moral matters just like me. 4. Saying that something is “just plain wrong!” packs a lot more rhetorical punch than saying that it’s “something we’re 266 . A more serious problem arises for the revisionist plan if there are good reasons for maintaining realist discourse that apply to public discussions among adults. Language does matter.8 “Just Causes” and the Rhetoric of Realism Above I allowed that realist moral talk may be necessary for raising moral2 children.

If it didn’t. say. Suppose that’s the case. We do the things we do not because of our meta-ethical beliefs. but because of who we are as individuals and as a species. aggressive actions.very much against!” I trust that revisionists will find creative ways to boost their rhetorical amplitude. What about noble. The point is simply that it’s not the basis for our pro-social tendencies. Should we deny ourselves access to the most effective tools available for promoting our substantive moral2 ends? Could the substantive ends of. Morality2 is primary. it wouldn’t be worth jettisoning. while morality1 is essentially a post-hoc interpretation of moral experience. progressive actions? Will soldiers fighting “just wars” stand by their posts as death draws near if they haven’t been taught that duty demands it?36 These are ultimately empirical questions. but that sometimes we may really need it. Here I make the same sort of caveat as before. but I suspect (surprise!) that these sorts of behaviors will persist in the absence of realist talk or thought. Still. This is not to say that morality1 exerts no force on our behavior. If the only way to get the local tribesmen to stop mutilating the 36 See Foot (1974). the human rights movement really be adequately served without talk of human rights? Earlier I suggested that leaders may need realist rhetoric in order to garner support for nasty. the worry was not that we can’t get by in general without realist talk. but the possibility remains that there will never be any talk quite so effective as good-old-fashioned realist rhetoric. I appeal once again to the social-intuitionist model described in Chapter 3. 267 .

3 I laid out the core argument of this chapter. I also clarified my subjective use of evaluative terms and gave a psychologically-based account of the failure of analytic naturalism. Drawing on the picture of moral psychology developed in Chapter 3. arguing that my “error theory” is ultimately optimistic and that rejecting moral realism doesn’t mean rejecting morality2. But allowing for this sort of exception is consistent with the position that realist language is generally detrimental and generally worth avoiding. explaining how 268 . In Section 4. In Section 4. I argued that our natural tendency toward realist thought and talk has been making trouble ever since our circumstances diverged from those in which our moral psychology evolved.genitals of the local tribeswomen is to make a big harangue about “human rights.2 I laid out my criteria for evaluating the various practical approaches to anti-realism.4 I outlined my revisionist proposal. arguing that we should accept or reject anti-realist proposals based on how well they further our core values.1 I did some ground-clearing. 4. We’re using Stone Age moral psychology in the Nuclear Age. and the costs of doing so continue to mount as the world gets smaller. by all means. In Section 4.9 Summary and Preview Let us return to the question with which we began this chapter: If moral realism is false. what are we to do? My answer is simple enough: Stop thinking and talking like moral realists. In Section 4.” then. do what you’ve got to do.

quasi-realism and fictionalism. likely to adopt? How exactly should we attempt to advance our revisionist program? What obstacles are we likely to face and how should we attempt to overcome them? 269 .5 I discussed the familiar analogy between moral properties and color properties. Similar arguments were made against Rawlsian constructivism and reforming analytic naturalism in Section 4. Thus. as revisionists. In Section 4. that such talk is not worth keeping in general. although possibly worth keeping in certain special circumstances. Finally. in this chapter I’ve made a case for revisionism over its anti-realist alternatives. drawing once again on my account of moral psychology. properly drawn.abandoning the language of moral realism is likely to avoid these sorts of problems. arguing that the analogy.6 I considered two related alternatives to revisionism. explaining why neither of them is likely to further our ends given the nature of moral psychology and our present circumstances. In Section 4.8 I considered the case for preserving realist talk on the grounds that it is valuable as a means of public persuasion in the service of moral2 ends and concluded. actually favors revisionism over its alternatives. In Section 4. In the next chapter I will assume that revisionism has won our allegiance and attempt to flesh out my practical proposal by addressing some more fine-grained questions concerning the positive revisionist program: What role is there for ethics as a domain of philosophical inquiry? What sort of firstorder moral positions are we.7.

what this means in practice. That is not to say that the issues addressed below are unimportant.Chapter 5 Revisionism in Practice We’ve concluded that moral realism is false and that. This final chapter is devoted to exploring them. in a preliminary way. On the contrary. 270 . I simply wish to acknowledge that critical readers will find in what follows even more than usual with which to quibble. even more speculative than the material covered so far—and. and much of what follows is highly speculative—that is. in presenting this material is not to establish firm conclusions but rather to raise some important questions and suggest a set of plausible answers. I believe they are of paramount importance. My aim. A warning to the reader: The main philosophical work of this essay is behind us. In the last chapter we considered. I confess. a bit preachy at times. but many important practical issues remain to be explored. however. we’d best stop thinking and talking as if moral realism were true. given the way our minds work and the state of the world.

1. if not most. We turn now to the dos and don’ts of revised moral philosophy. 46-53) described and canonized the standard dialectical approach to answering first-order moral questions as a method of “reflective equilibrium.5. or help discover. if anything. use those principles to inform our thinking about the cases in which our intuitions are less clear. as one might have hoped. pp. are moral philosophers supposed to do? While many projects in moral philosophy lose their interest once moral realism has been rejected. although not as much. perhaps.1 Normative Ethics and the Organization of Moral Intuitions As normative ethicists we are interested in two things: answers to questions about right and wrong and the proper justifications for those answers. firstorder moral truths.” We begin with a wide variety of intuitions about particular moral questions. if possible. then what. The ethicist aims to develop moral principles that organize the intuitions in which we have the most confidence and then. assuming that our moral intuitions 271 . First. this sort of activity has two purposes. But if there are no first-order moral truths. 5. there remains nevertheless plenty of good work for moral philosophers.1 Revisionism and the Future of Moral Philosophy Many. For realists. John Rawls (1971. moral philosophers aim to discover. some of which enjoy our confidence. some of which do not.

Because our emotional intuitions are the psychological descendents of 272 . thus expanding our knowledge of right and wrong and correcting misguided or muddled intuitions. The problem. Clearly. but I maintain that it is nevertheless unlikely to be of much use. we don’t reason our way to particular moral conclusions. a coherent set of explicit principles early on.generally reflect the moral truth. but after a while our knowledge of these principles is transformed from explicit. if necessary. as ever. propositional knowledge of moral principles into a set of emotional intuitions. organizing our intuitions with normative principles deepens our understanding of moral reality by revealing its underlying structure. we may adjudicate difficult cases by appeal to those principles. and then. attempt to make rational sense of those intuitive conclusions after the fact. the realist version of ethics by reflective equilibrium is ruled out by revisionism. in bits and pieces. According to the social-intuitionist model. rather than revealing the underlying structure of objective moral reality. with approximations of the true moral principles in hand. stems from moral psychology. For the most part. But what about a parallel anti-realist mode of inquiry by which philosophers. we arrive at our particular moral conclusions via emotionally-based intuitions. reveal the underlying structure of our subjective moral values? This program is perfectly acceptable so far as anti-realism is concerned. But why aren’t they well-behaved? Couldn’t the process go something like this?: We learn. Second. But these attempts never coalesce into a coherent moral theory because the intuitions that constrain them are not so well behaved. our moral judgments are driven primarily by emotional responses. Rather.

The emotions/intuitions appear to come before the explicit theorizing in the development of both individuals and species. It’s a nice thought. been ruled out as the primary shapers of our moral intuitions. deliberate attempts to make moral rules have. Put aside. those intuitions will be well-behaved. coherent set of principles. Why should we think 1 Not all cultural processes that shape moral intuitions are blind. and it unlikely that they have. the emotional dog wags the rational tail. and chimpanzees exhibit social behaviors and instincts that strikingly resemble our own without the benefit of explicit moral principles. For us. the ability to learn and manipulate explicit moral principles develops later than the social and emotional instincts that form the basis of our moral intuitions. much in the way that an experienced typist can reconstruct the layout of the keyboard by watching his fingers as he types in the air. our moral intuitions will be organizable by moral principles only to the extent that natural selection and the blind cultural processes1 that shaped our social instincts happened to organize them for us. In humans.e. but the evidence speaks against it. as well as our primate ancestors. Moreover. If that’s right. by hypothesis. the profound influence of culture on moral intuition and consider the design pressures imposed on our social instincts by natural selection. for a moment. Natural selection designed us to spread our genes in environments like the ones in which our ancestors evolved. there’s no reason why we can’t raise to the surface the moral principles that underlie our intuitions by watching our intuitions in action. i. but the ones that aren’t blind.an explicitly held. 273 .

but not without seriously risking the mother’s life. however. which explains why many people develop strong intuitions against it.2 (2) Many people think that abortion is permissible. say. (1)-(3) make sense from an evolutionary/psychological perspective.that the collection of instincts that nature gave us for this purpose should fit together into a nice. particularly when the resources required to care for the infant could be used more effectively for the raising of other children. as well as the controversy that surrounds it. too. 3 Our ancestors could certainly terminate unwanted pregnancies. This intuition. and the killing of animals for food. by withdrawing life-support mechanisms. This makes sense from an evolutionary/psychological perspective because allowing one’s child to die is not good for one’s genes. See Hausfater and Hrdy (1984). for example. though many disagree. 2 In some cases. This. some standard intuitions concerning infanticide. at least under most circumstances.3 thus explaining why people’s intuitions about abortion vary.) (1) Many people think that for a pair of parents to allow their infant to die. 274 . is wrong. However. normative package? Take. (3) Most people think that eating fairly intelligent animals such as pigs is morally acceptable. Eating animals such as pigs is generally good for the survival of one’s genes. abortion. abortion shares many features with choosing death for one’s infant (not to mention ordinary killing). 1979. ending one’s child life can be biologically advantageous. makes evolutionary/psychological sense. (See Singer. makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Abortion was not an option for our hominid ancestors.

Troubles only multiply when one must reconcile the conflicting intuitions of many different people. has the potential to develop into a full-blown person. sentience. it’s not likely to work. As far as I know. that this sort of moral theorizing fails because our intuitions do not reflect a coherent set of moral truths and were not designed by natural selection or anything else to behave as if they were. while antirealism does not rule out the possibility of reinventing normative ethics as an attempt to organize our moral intuitions and values. etc. turn to biology. If one argues that it’s acceptable to kill a pig but not allow an infant to die on the grounds that an infant has the potential to develop into a full-blown person while a pig does not. 275 . consciousness. Thus. once again. If one argues that it is acceptable to kill a fetus but not acceptable to allow an infant to die on the grounds that fetuses and infants differ in their levels of intelligence. psychology. no one has come up with a set of principles that does justice to these intuitions without running into intuitive trouble elsewhere. which. like an infant. And note that this is the case for a single person’s intuitions. If you want to make sense of your moral sense. then one has to explain why it’s acceptable to kill pigs when pigs are more like infants than fetuses in terms of these features. and sociology—not normative ethics..but at the same time these intuitions are very hard to make sense of using normative principles. then one has to explain why it’s acceptable to kill a fetus. I maintain.

not so general as meta-ethics. flourishing.5. moral philosophy is increasingly dominated by a style of inquiry that is not empirical (at least not in any straightforward way).1. these are direct and general theories. When working in this vein. 1995). but not all. 276 . 1975. and so on. has proven very difficult (for the reasons given above). of this work goes under the headings of “virtue ethics” and “practical reason” theory. One uses a 4 5 The main exceptions are utilitarians such as Singer (1972. unlike normative or applied ethics. but very abstract and. concepts that have both descriptive and evaluative components such as integrity. forgiveness. what actions are right or wrong and why. to a lesser extent. Like me. at least ones that square with most people’s first-order moral intuitions.2 The Study of “Thick” Moral Concepts With few exceptions.5 This is not because moral philosophers wouldn’t like to produce such theories.4 moral philosophers have given up on producing first-order moral theories. As a result. But these days. Using the terminology employed in Chapter 2. philosophers have redirected their efforts. but rather because producing such theories. theories that purport to tell us how to live. rather removed from practical moral issues. many philosophers have turned toward meta-ethics and. 1979. one typically begins one’s discussion by making a number of subtle interpretive distinctions concerning one or more of these concepts. the empirical investigation of morality as a psychological and sociological phenomenon. reason. Much. Such discussions typically center around one or more “thick” moral concepts.

Were we so 6 By “descriptive” I mean “value-neutral” as I used the term in Chapter 2. but there is. Often the discussion culminates in a rather detailed theoretical construction that binds together the concepts under consideration.” or how forgiveness has both a cognitive and emotive component. One then makes various suggestions concerning the interrelations among these various concepts. though perhaps not as central as the ones selected for further discussion. some made up. After all. but. some drawn from literature or popular culture. The pertinent question for us is whether or not there is a place for this sort of theorizing given our rejection of moral realism and any pretense thereof. are clearly suspect.variety of examples to illustrate these distinctions. acknowledging that the ones left aside are legitimate. 277 . perhaps. and so on. contrary to what so-and-so said. something like: “To flourish is to successfully exercise one’s virtues in the pursuit of long-term goals in the context of a human life. a better case to be made on behalf of moral theories that trade in thick moral concepts. explaining how integrity “in this sense” is a precondition for flourishing “in this sense. Theories centered around “thin” moral concepts. the discussion has “shed light” on some of the concepts and terms that people use when they talk about real-world moral issues. are we saying that there’s no such thing as flourishing? Or that there are no moral reasons for action? The dual nature of these concepts as both evaluative and descriptive6 makes them difficult for revisionists to dismiss entirely. purely evaluative ones like right and wrong.” No stands are taken on any real-world moral issues. Then one cordons off one or more of these overhauled concepts for further scrutiny. one hopes.

For example. and see if we’re not left with some kind of true psychological or sociological claim. and throw out the evaluative components. What we’ll end up with is a claim asserting the necessary7 equivalence of the evaluative property of flourishing on the one hand with some complicated descriptive property on the other. goal. 278 . It will follow that whatever has this descriptive property is good. to be something good. Or we could leave the evaluative components in and see if what we have is not in fact a purely conceptual moral truth such as. which is unlikely given our background assumption that all the facts with which we are concerned supervene on lower-level facts of the sort investigated by science. “It is wrong to not do what one ought to do. we could attempt to sort out the descriptive and evaluative components within of each of these concepts. success. for example. Thus we will have deduced a moral fact of the sort that we rejected in Chapter 2 and thus produced 7 If the equivalence isn’t necessary then the whole claim is empirical and one is essentially doing armchair science—that is.inclined. among other things. at least for the purposes of factual discourse. and life. virtue. unless one thinks that there are nonempirical ways to discover contingent facts.” What we can’t do is interpret some of these terms in a purely descriptive way and others in a partially or wholly evaluative way and hope to be left with something true. suppose we let flourish retain its evaluative meaning and let the rest of the terms go completely descriptive. In considering the theoretical claim above. human. put our stamp of approval on the descriptive components. we could attempt to subtract out the evaluative components in flourish. since to be an instance of flourishing is.

is that it makes one’s theory sound like nothing more than a bit of armchair social science.? The reason why not. The foregoing is. living a certain kind of life is likely to make you happier. of course. just a quick treatment using one example as a stand-in for a large research program. then it’s simply a question of how well those ends are served by this sort of discussion. many of its proponents would agree. a program about which there is certainly more to be said than I will say here.” why not just say that. of little consequence. But if that’s what it is. It seems that such theoretical claims. and a bit of 279 . at the same time. one’s aim is to toss around some ideas in a way that “sheds light” on our values and/or various aspects of the human experience. conceptual truths concerning concepts that are never fully instantiated. etc.a reductio of the claim in question. I suggest that the language of thick moral concepts only confuses matters. If one’s ultimate aim is to make a claim about human nature. insofar as they are intended to be true. then that’s what it is. I suspect. on the other hand. or claims that are simply not true. will either be armchair empirical claims. and. But. After all. If. it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that this apparently realist branch of moral philosophy serves little purpose once moral realism has been rejected. as a matter of fact. then why not make this plain? Instead of offering a “virtue-theoretic account of flourishing. If one’s aim is to survey the moral landscape as a preamble to answering questions about right and wrong. But is it completely pointless without realism? That will depend on what one hopes to achieve. healthier. indeed. I suspect. what more there is to say is. then it’s hard to see the point.

without subverting some of our moral intuitions. 280 . and there’s not much more to say about it. then why not present one’s recommendation as such? Why not simply say. slop all over the place. and. I’ve no illusions about the fact that meta-ethical inquiry will go on whether I like it or not. What’s left? Meta-ethics? Too late. but at the same time we’re not going to let our moral intuitions.armchair speculation isn’t necessarily such a bad thing. And do Well Things aren’t looking good for ethicists. but insofar as my arguments are correct. I say this in jest. more importantly. I’m afraid. we will continue to care about consistency. but not entirely. our moral behavior. This was an exciting area of research until Chapters 2 and 3 ended it.1. More specifically. Or perhaps the aim is not to describe human nature. …Is all hope lost? Applied ethics to the rescue.8 But what do we mean by “consistency?” What sort of behavior is inconsistent? Suppose 8 That is. “I suggest we live like this rather than like that?” 5. Tossing around thick moral concepts probably isn’t very useful. If that’s the case. the truth about meta-ethics is pretty simple. Organizing our moral intuitions into a single theory may be impossible.3 What Ethicists Can Do. Constructing first-order moral theories is out. but to recommend a way of life. even if we are unable to achieve consistency across a wide range of moral issues. of course.

In what sense is this policy inconsistent? While this behavior and the rule that guides it are not logically inconsistent. not just for Monday. as seems plausible. the inconsistency is apparent at the outset. for example. then killing the whales on Tuesday appears to thwart Monday’s conservation efforts. Some vaccines have a very small chance of infecting the people who take them with the diseases these vaccines are designed to prevent.9 A similar issue has arisen concerning the use of certain vaccines. Thus. In this example. Take. the devotion of immense resources to saving individuals in trouble rather than to preventative measures that would prevent larger numbers of other individuals from getting in trouble in the future. For example. a mining corporation might spend millions of dollars and risk several people’s lives to rescue a single worker from a fallen mine shaft when it could use that money to set up safety precautions that would save several people’s lives without putting any rescue workers at risk. the inconsistency follows from the introduction of a further assumption about our goals. that our motivation in saving the whales on Monday is to preserve their lives. 281 . but for Tuesday and beyond. It’s certainly possible to do this. First. but we may be engaged in other patterns of behavior that are similarly inconsistent. though less obviously so. this policy appears to involve the pursuit of incompatible ends. they may nevertheless be inconsistent in one or both of the following ways. If we suppose.we save the whales on Monday and then slaughter them on Tuesday. and some people oppose the use of such vaccines for 9 This and next example are from Baron (1998).

It is. the potential for such inconsistency. The other kind of inconsistency that ethicists may attempt to root out is better understood as arbitrariness. Whether or not the policies described above are really inconsistent depends. however. it's very arbitrary. very strange. In that case. The fact that it’s Tuesday rather 282 . but who are nevertheless whole-heartedly in favor of saving whales on Mondays and wholeheartedly in favor of destroying them on Tuesdays. indeed. and (3) examine our goals (and the values that underlie them) in order to determine whether or not our behavior is ultimately counterproductive.this reason. their behavior is not at all inconsistent in the sense of being self-defeating. on what our goals are: Are we simply trying to save the most lives. To take another example. or are there other considerations that matter as well? To address these issues. even though the patients involved have no other access to medical care and the future of such potentially life-saving drugs depends on their being validated in clinical trials using placebos. some have opposed clinical drug trials in which people who might otherwise receive a potentially life-saving drug receive placebo pills. (2) examine the facts in order to determine whether or not there is. More specifically. ethicists can (1) identify cases in which our behavior is potentially inconsistent in this way. Suppose instead that it is a policy enacted by a group of people who are not terribly concerned with the future of whale-kind. Suppose that the aforementioned whale policy isn’t some sort of a compromise plan between conservationist and business interests. as in the case of the whales. even though the vaccines tend to save many more lives than they claim.

at present. even if they’re hard to take seriously as practical issues: Why should individuals care about their own future selves more than those of other people? 283 . but not an infant with poor life prospects (Singer. they will inevitably point to changes that can be understood as cases of reduced arbitrariness: Why should whites enjoy freedoms that blacks do not? Why should men enjoy freedoms that women do not? Why should some tax-payers receive representation in government while others do not? And the same can be said for many of the moral battles currently being fought: Why should gays be barred from marriage and military service when heterosexuals are not? Why should people born in the United States enjoy its opportunities and advantages while those who were born elsewhere may not? Why should a relatively benign substance like marijuana be illegal while an extremely damaging substance like alcohol is not? And then there are questions that. 1972)? Why should some people have greater prospects in life simply because they were born with greater talents or financial resources?10 10 And just for good measure. but not a starving baby across the ocean (Singer. The above example is rather silly. there are cases of questionable arbitrariness that are fun to think about. are primarily the concern of philosophers: Why is it acceptable to end the life of a fetus with poor life prospects. but if you ask people to name our clearest instances of moral progress. 1995)? Why should one feel obligated to save a nearby drowning baby.than Monday appears to have no bearing on whether it makes sense to kill whales rather than save them.

284 . an inquiry concerning the treatment of animals may move us to learn more about the minds of animals. most of the widely acknowledged moral progress we’ve made has come from asking questions such as these. or both. For example. This kind of ethics is but one among many. However. As a result we may learn something about animal psychology. our values. when our inquiry results in neither a change in our practice nor the identification of a satisfying justification for retaining it. As argued in the last chapter. Third. and in a sense that is certainly the case. this project looms large. we are humbled. our world suffers from moral overconfidence. in attempting to find a reasonable basis for what appeared to be an arbitrary distinction we may learn something about the facts and/or our values. Second. and I see no reason why this trend should not continue. doing so may change our practices.Exploring these issues serves three functions. We are likely to get along better if each of us recognizes that many of her moral practices and commitments are rather arbitrary. Identifying and rooting out counterproductive and morally arbitrary behavior may seem like a rather narrow occupation for ethicists. even if we don’t change the practice in question. First. as in the case of the civil rights movement. As noted above. from a practical standpoint.

Once again. But even within relatively circumscribed ethical domains. and the killing of animals for food. we must settle for something more modest. Thus. psychology has been relevant in two principal ways: as an explanation for the apparent truth of moral realism (Chapter 3) and as a source of guidance in structuring our anti-realist practices (Chapter 4). it fails because our intuitions are not sufficiently well-behaved. coherent moral theory. So far. namely local consistency. as a partner in the project of applied ethics. either by altering them or finding reasons to discount them in one’s decision-making. In such cases one need not throw up one’s hands. aims to organize all of our moral intuitions into a single. and knowing why one thinks something can change one’s attitude toward that thought. Instead. or even stop one from thinking it. for example.5. Here. having been designed to serve our ancestors’ reproductive needs rather than our present philosophical ones. Psychology is useful in this regard because psychology can tell us why we think the way we do. instead of large-scale theory building. infanticide. moral psychology makes a third contribution.1. in its most ambitious form. Take. consistency is elusive.4 Moral Psychology and the Taming of Moral Intuitions Since Chapter 2 I have emphasized the relevance of moral psychology to our understanding of ethics. however. Normative ethics. as illustrated above in the combined case of abortion. one may hope to disarm one or more of these unruly intuitions. the incest case from Chapter 3 in which two adult siblings. Mark and 285 .

we may conclude. and killing animals for food in evolutionary/psychological terms. making a powerful aversion to sex between close relatives an important biological advantage. have sex using birth control. Matings between close relatives are especially likely to result in children with birth defects. we may disown one or more of them. for our ancestors at least. Debunking intuitions through a better grasp of moral/evolutionary psychology will likely serve us well as we strive for moral2 consistency by putting some distance between us and our intuitions. On the other hand. 1996). but conclude nevertheless that it’s their business if that’s what they want to do. we could stand by our intuitions and condemn them all the same. we wouldn’t be making a mistake. biologically bad. The second response isn’t required. what shall we say about Mark and Julie? On the one hand. Understanding this.Julie. that. we could acknowledge that their behavior makes us a bit uncomfortable (if it still does). For example. Were we to condemn them for their incest. as Peter Singer does (1979. Today we continue to see it as morally bad even in cases in which there is no biological disadvantage. As a result of understanding these intuitions. in some 286 . we see incest as morally bad because it was. we can make sense of the moderate liberal’s respective intuitions concerning infanticide. Thus. Most people say that their behavior is terribly wrong. Why? The evolutionary explanation is familiar enough. abortion. As noted above. we’re much less likely to condemn them once we understand of the etiology of our intuitive revulsion to their behavior. Nevertheless.

it seems that the way to get people to change or disown their moral intuitions is not to say. “Here’s some science. 1971. I should emphasize. even if it would allow them to better defend their moral views. and thus make our policies less arbitrary. we friends of intuition-debunking through evolutionary/moral psychology are better off presenting the science as science and not as a device for turning common sense moralists into Peter Singer fans. however. Thus. have moral opinions that at present strike you as abhorrent.cases at least. People who think that allowing an infant to die is absolutely positively wrong are not especially interested in being talked out of that conviction.” Rather. that people are highly unlikely to turn to moral psychology in hopes that it will distance them from their intuitions. it makes sense to end an infant’s life or that it doesn’t make sense to kill certain animals for food. like me. as a pedagogical matter. Lewis. desires that people desire to retain (Frankfurt. This is because most people are more committed to their moral intuitions than they are to making them consistent.4) 287 . 1989). (More on revisionist educational strategies later in Section 5. Rather. It will change your moral outlook and make you. (We’re talking about values.) The people whose moral commitments change as a result of their encounters with moral/evolutionary psychology are for the most part not people who turned to science in search of relief from inconsistent intuitions. they are people who encountered moral/evolutionary psychology for other reasons only to find that their understanding of moral/evolutionary psychology has undermined much of their common-sense moral thought.

which in turn may be understood in evolutionary terms. Is it 11 According to criteria outlined in Greene et al. In these two cases one glimpses the broader organization of our moral thought and the various commitments we have as a result. in spite of their similarity and in spite of the difficulties we face in explaining why we ought to treat them differently. In the trolley case one simply hits a switch and lets the trolley do the rest. (2001).11 one must push the innocent bystander to his death with one’s bare hands. extending well beyond the cases I’ve mentioned. As noted above. while violence using elaborate contraptions that put fairly large distances between perpetrator and victim was not. we who would without hesitation incur great risk and cost to ourselves to save a nearby drowning baby have no problem spending our money on needless luxuries when that money could save the lives of countless dying babies in other countries.The relevance of moral psychology to moral thought is ubiquitous. As Singer (1972) noted decades ago. It makes sense that we respond to these two dilemmas with different degrees of emotion. The violation one commits in the footbridge case is “up close and personal. but telling cases—fruit flies in the emerging science of evolutionary moral psychology. our intuitions in the trolley and footbridge cases appear to depend on our emotional responses. Consider our sense of justice. 288 . The trolley and footbridge cases are simple.”. Why should we react differently to these sorts of behaviors? A hypothesis: “Up close and personal” violence was a serious issue for our hominid ancestors.

to understand them and accept them for what they are: not messengers of moral truth. while vacationing in Paris. 12 Or is it the fact that these children are citizens of other countries? Not likely.that we happen to care a great deal about physical proximity?12 Might this not have something to do with what sorts of things press our moral-emotional buttons? Recall once again Josef Stalin’s words: “A single death is a tragedy. but biologically and culturally encoded dispositions that are at once the basis for our deepest values and the source of much unnecessary suffering. We cannot reject a portion of our values without appealing to other values we hold. let a French baby drown in the Seine? For a deeper exploration of these issues see Unger (1996). the more we are in charge of them rather than the other way around. 289 . 1998) has humanity suffered because our minds were not welladapted to preventing it? The better we understand our moral intuitions. To what values do we appeal at the highest level? Science cannot tell us the answer. and I will say more about that in Section 5. I believe that scientifically informed moral thought does have a normative direction. Like Neurath’s (1959) sailors who must repair their boat at sea. Our aim is not to destroy our intuitions—What would we be without them?—but rather to tame them. A million deaths is a statistic.3. we cannot step outside of our values in our attempts to repair them.” How much death and destruction and plain-old bad policy (Baron. Would you. but it can help us understand the nature of the conflict within our values and in so doing direct our evaluative judgment.

Earlier I said that some realist talk is worse than other realist talk when it comes to promoting misunderstanding and ill-will. and any like it. we can start by getting rid of realist talk.. leaves a real problem of what should happen when we know it to be true. 5. but in the world at large. Speaking this way would.. the revisionist aim is to get rid of realist moral thinking. In the previous chapter I sketched a plan for revising moral discourse: Speak of facts when possible. what about the world outside of philosophy? After all.5. In this section I explain why this should be so and which bits of language are most likely to be counterproductive. To get rid of realist thought and the behavior it engenders. not just in the halls of academia.2.2 Revisionist Moral Discourse Now that we have a sense of what revisionist moral philosophers will be doing.1 Begging the Question with Deontological Language Bernard Williams writes: Mackie’s theory. I believe. [I speculate] that the first victim of 290 . help us resist the illusion of realism and thus further communication and understanding across moral lines. and speak of values in transparently subjective terms.

13 Second. I might intend to express more than that. In contrast.” while not ideal from a revisionist perspective. if I say.this knowledge is likely to be the Kantian sense of presented duty… it is the starkest example of objectification.” as 13 It’s no accident that R. and when I say that the movie last night was “better” than the one I saw last week. as Bertrand Russell (1946) once did. M. Hare’s (1952. this is because their ordinary uses are more often subjective or hypothetical as compared to words like “right” and “wrong. it stands to suffer the most if that sense is questioned. 151) expressivist theory of moral language begins with an analysis of the term “good” rather than the term “right”: “I have so far. philosophical. It is an important task for moral philosophy to consider what they may be. I. and since there is nothing to it except the sense of being given. Realist words like “good. pg. and into what coherent pictures of ethical life. almost certainly intend to express more than my distaste for it.” 291 . that bullfighting is wrong. like Russell. are not so terrible either. First. but I might not. they will fit (1985).” “better.” and “worse.” “bad.’ because the characteristics to which I wished to draw attention are most easily illustrated in the behaviour of that word. in discussing the words used in moral discourse.” When I say that the sea bass was “good” last night. There are other ethical desires that are better adapted to being seen for what they are. our use of terms like “good” and “bad. confined myself largely to the word ‘good. I’m very likely expressing nothing more than that I enjoyed eating it. psychological and social. I may not be expressing anything more than a preference.

the language that is the most unambiguously categorical and objective in its implications.” I surely mean that it is good for eating (or.” “bad. For example. it’s not at all clear what. While terms like “right” and “wrong” and “rights” have some hypothetical uses of their own. say. perhaps. for tasting) and not good for. with only optional moral standards.” that are so naturally interpreted as implying categorical demands. regardless of one’s goals or preferences. The main enemy here. it seems that some bits of realist language are less subjective and more categorical than others.” it’s harder to find uses of “good. is the language characteristic of deontology. then ice cream is good. when one says that it’s wrong to kill people. The Good precedes The Right. cleaning my rug. In other words. making them more realist and therefore more important to avoid. When I say that ice cream is “good. the moral 14 Pace Harman (1996).” is more easily interpreted as making implicit reference to optional standards. Wrong for morality? Yes. In contrast to our most moralistic uses of “right” and “wrong. And without categorical demands. this is supposed to be wrong for. there is no realism.14 Thus. Indeed.” “better. as in the “right” way to hit a forehand volley. we say that killing people is just plain wrong. Deontology is usually contrasted with consequentialism. but standards imposed by morality aren’t supposed to be optional. According to consequentialism.compared to “right” and “wrong. if anything.” or “worse. our use of “good” in such contexts is implicitly hypothetical: If you want something tasty to eat. their uses are very often implicitly categorical. In other words. 292 .

or is at least somewhat independent of it. for example.” but they emphasize them differently.quality of an action is assessed in terms of its effects—or its intended effects. every practical moral issue is largely an empirical issue. One might conclude. many practical moral issues are to be settled a priori simply by considering the “intrinsic” nature of the action in question. both direct and indirect.” “good. In contrast.” “bad.” “ought. Another way to characterize the difference in emphasis is to say that consequentialism emphasizes the language of balance while deontology 293 . autonomy. etc. Deontologists. on whether that action exhibits proper respect for the dignity. a deontologist may pass judgment on that action without much thought for its consequences. in contrast. The moral quality of an action is not simply a function of its associated outcomes. or some other more sophisticated variant of this idea. freedom. of others in a way that goes beyond merely factoring in other people’s wellbeing as part of the cost-benefit analysis.” “wrong. for example. rather. For consequentialists. a matter of figuring out what states of affairs are likely to result from the action in question. “right. that telling this lie would be wrong regardless of the good consequences it may achieve because all deception exhibits insufficient respect for the autonomy of others and is therefore wrong. but depends. In deciding whether it would be wrong to tell a certain lie. For deontologists. believe that The Right precedes The Good. a consequentialist’s deliberation will consist of a tabulation of that lie’s expected effects. or its likely effects. Consequentialists and deontologists each help themselves to the full array of the common sense moral terms. or its perceived likely effects.

liberals—the 15 Actually. People project their values onto the world. Liberals will argue that capital punishment is not an effective deterrent and that making abortion illegal will only result in more backroom butchery and unwanted children.emphasizes the language of line drawing. both sides will appeal to consequences when it serves them. Likewise. But the more honest members of either camp will admit that their commitments are not beholden to these sorts of contingent claims about the consequences of capital punishment and abortion. an ardent liberal. Of course. How will people in the grip of such projections be inclined to express their views? Answer: with a language as forceful and absolute as their moral intuitions. conservatives will defend capital punishment’s effectiveness as a deterrent and argue that illegal abortions and unwanted children can be replaced by adoptions. Line-drawing is a bad habit. Once again.15 the normative expression of what is most destructive in moral realism. there are many times one “has to draw the line. 294 . will say that capital punishment is a clear violation of human rights and that abortion is a clear violation of a woman’s right to choose. Likewise. Recall from Chapter 3 the psychological basis of moral realism. After all. one whose liberal judgments stem from deeply felt moral intuitions. See below.” What is bad is appealing to drawn lines in attempting to settle moral issues. it’s not line-drawing per se that’s bad. mistakenly thinking that the forceful intuitions they experience are perceptions of a mind-independent moral reality. Thus. an ardent conservative will say that family members of murder victims have a right to see justice served in the form of an execution and that abortion is a clear violation of a fetus’ right to life.

There are two kinds of rights to which one can appeal. It captures the clarity and absoluteness of the conviction. to whom the whole issue is whether we should change the Second Amendment or (re)interpret it so as to achieve the same thing. but even when there is such a standard. This is especially true when there is no clear legal standard for determining which right takes precedence. This is why talk of rights is such a natural expression for these powerful commitments. legal rights and moral rights. as when board game players are forced. it’s equally pointless to appeal to one of them as if this might settle the issue. to consult the fine print on the inside of the box. of course. When two legal rights conflict. unlike their perverse opponents. anyway—oppose capital punishment because they feel that it is just plain wrong. this gets them nowhere with their opponents. Gunlovers appeal to their (legal) right to bear arms: “Read the Second Amendment!” But. 295 . rigidity.more ardent ones. clearly have the moral truth on their side. its insensitivity to the empirical calculus of costs and benefits. after much heated dispute. The only time it’s not question-begging to appeal to a legal right is when there is genuine ignorance of the letter of the law. and in either case the appeal is inevitably question-begging. the notion of rights epitomizes the practical failure of moral realism. one can question that standard on moral grounds just as one can question any law on moral grounds. In other words. the stubbornness. and irreconcilable differences that emerge when people believe that they. likewise for conservatives and their opposition to abortion.

horrible truth about morality. but to people who know the terrible. Contrast assertions about rights and other deontological entities with these contributions: “I think it’s selfish to tell him. Another friend adds. one of sacrificing her husband’s happiness in order to ease her own sense of guilt. it is portrayed as a selfish act. To this one might reply. namely the possibility that her husband already suspects her infidelity and that he may have less to lose in being told about it than one might suspect.” and probably less so given that revisionists will inevitably find people who speak as if they have the Moral Truth on their side somewhat annoying. If realism were true. but they don’t tell you why. Suppose some people are discussing whether their mutual friend should confess to her husband that she’s had an extramarital affair. Assertions about rights. Gustave has a right to know!” one of them asserts. such assertions are no more effective than an expressivist “Boo!” or “Hurrah!. They tell you what to do.” This comment performs a useful service by drawing one’s attention to a relevant “empirical” issue. Rather than conceiving of her confession as an act of bravery performed out of respect for her husband. Let her live with it! Why make things worse for him?” This statement suggests a shift in perspective. duties.Given that moral realism is false. but they do nothing to defend it. and they certainly don’t give someone who is inclined to disagree a reason to change her mind. 296 . and obligations (over)state a position. it is equally pointless to appeal to moral rights in the context of a purely moral disagreement. and knowing is better than always wondering. “She must tell him. wrongs. “She should tell him because he probably already suspects. such a claim might convey useful information about the Moral Truth.

To any particular course of action one must say either “yes” or “no.” Thus. are forced to draw by the nature of action. nature contains no true moral lines. The nature of moral action requires the drawing of lines: One either jumps in and saves the drowning child. and continuous considerations. inducements to view the same situation in a different evaluative light (“Good point! I hadn’t thought of it that way!”). the kinds of lines that we. Some draw attention to relevant facts (“Good point! I hadn’t thought of that!”). contrary to appearances. at some level.“Would you want to live a lie? I’d want to know the truth no matter what. but. the practical outputs of moral judgment are discrete actions. all action is discrete. drawing theoretical lines that translate into practical lines. have the option of dogmatism. One either votes to allow abortion or one does not. have no choice but to acknowledge that all moral judgment is an imprecise process of weighing values. of blindly acting by moral norms that one takes to be authoritative. fluid. Deontology is intuitively appealing because it offers answers as clear and forceful as our intuitions. We begin with only a mush of 297 . like it or not. while others offer new perspectives on the same facts. Revisionists. Unlike empty assertions about rights and duties. or one does not. Of course.” This comment suggests yet another shift in perspective. one will sometimes make compromises by adopting middle-ofthe-road courses of action. in contrast. one achieved through the empathetic exercise of role-reversal. Moral realists. comments such as these do offer something of value. But. while the inputs to moral judgment are fuzzy. and those anti-realists who would emulate them.

always begs the question. obligations. Such appeals are merely attempts to settle moral issues by insisting that they have.morally relevant considerations. can be useful. in effect. Often one can think of words like “good” and “bad” as non-specific placeholders for evaluatively relevant factual terms. treating the use of the label as a moral issue in itself. characteristically consequentialist words like “good. When one says. In contrast to deontological language. then one must drop the evaluative label and go a level deeper. to making sense of the moral mush rather than denying its mushiness. One can use such terms in one’s subjective accounting of costs and benefits. and any lines that get drawn must be drawn by us. but rather indications of uncontroversial16 moral2 sub-judgments that will feed into the all-thingsconsidered judgment that practice requires. already been settled by Mother Moral Nature and the lines she has drawn.” and “worse” may be used by revisionists without too much cringing because such words lend themselves to talk of balancing. 298 .” but less dogmatic uses of “bad. Continuing with the example 16 When such judgments turn out to be controversial.” “bad. “It’s bad enough that she did it… Why make things worse for him?” the “bad” and “worse” are not controversial labels that beg the ultimate moral question.” “better. things we care about. Justifying one’s opposition to the action under consideration by labeling it “bad” is as bad as doing so by labeling it “wrong.” etc. Therefore. for example. etc.” “good. any attempt to settle a moral question with deontological appeals to rights.

one completely purged of realist moral language.above. or in favor of allowing it. might be to appeal to the generally accepted principle that people should be able to say what they want in almost all cases. for some strange reason. The problem is that in any real controversy in which “rights” are 17 And if. a revisionist might just as easily say. but the advantages here are minimal. To appeal to the moral right to free speech. one might argue. Likewise. one can easily interpret this as an empirical assertion. one wishes to express one’s opposition to abortion without making a claim about oneself. What goes for private debates about marital infidelity goes for public moral debates as well. because…” but. because…?” Here we might say instead. that an appeal to a right can be understood as an appeal to a default assumption. “I recommend telling him. Perhaps. what would it mean to say that a fetus has a right to life or that a woman has a right to choose? If all one means in saying these things is that one is against abortion. 299 . “Her actions have caused a lot of unhappiness already… Why create additional unhappiness for him?” Zealous revisionists may prefer a formulation of the latter sort. then one can just say “Boo!” to it. the gain is minimal. In the context of an openly anti-realist dialogue. again. probably one to the effect that knowing the unpleasant truth makes one happier in the long run. In this context the emphasis is on the factual claim following the “because. then why not just say that?17 Packaging one’s opinion as a claim about “rights” is just pointless propaganda.” and not on abstract moral considerations. What about the “should” in “She should tell him. for example. when one says that it’s “better” to know than to wonder.

just question-begging propaganda. This sort of claim contributes to a meaningful dialogue because it’s something a pro-choice liberal can acknowledge. 300 . In contrast. 18 Pointless so far as real dialogue is concerned. it is pointless18 for civil libertarians to defend flag-burning by appeal to the right to free speech. as in others. that restricting abortion rights is “good” (or “good” in certain respects) because it teaches people important lessons in personal responsibility. It may be useful as propaganda. “bad” things that an honest conservative can acknowledge as bad. He can agree that there is an up side to anti-choice legislation. once again. The debate is about whether to make an exception for this sort of speech. such as harm caused by illegal abortions.invoked. appeals to rights are. regardless of how natural this feels. but then go on to argue that these advantages are outweighed by the disadvantages. one can appeal to “good” and “bad” consequences without propagandizing. Of course. In this case. useless in the face of anti-realists who know the meta-ethical truth and aren’t willing to play along. for example. Therefore. This claim is not empty. A young woman who gets pregnant as a result of irresponsible choices and is forced to carry a baby to term and give it up for adoption is likely to learn some valuable life lessons that she might not learn if given the option to end her pregnancy with a pill. Everyone is generally in favor of free speech. the question is inevitably about the limits of those rights. Pointing out that this case would be an exception does nothing to change the minds of those who want it to be an exception. A pro-life conservative might say.

my claim is not that all consequentialist moral language is good. To address the second charge first. for example. My claim is that some of it is tolerable. not ignoring. or even that any of it is good. If that’s what we mean by 301 . that would be a very worthwhile achievement. for example. One might say that I’ve only considered the least sophisticated and most dogmatic forms of deontological language while ignoring the most dogmatic and simplistic uses of consequentialist language. the pro-choice camp could get the pro-life camp to acknowledge that its opposition to abortion is ultimately grounded in untestable religious beliefs and nothing else. then why is talk of balancing competing “rights” and “obligations” any worse than the equivalent consequentialist talk of balancing harms and benefits (“goods” and “bads”)? Some people who talk of balancing rights may think there is an algorithm for deciding which rights take priority over which. One might claim that I haven’t given deontological language a fair shake. over the various weights to attach to the mutually acknowledged “good” and “bad” consequences of (dis)allowing abortion. there may remain brute evaluative differences. There may remain untestable factual assumptions on either side concerning. the bad uses of consequentialist language. The first charge is more serious. Likewise. If. If what I’m really against is simplistic line-drawing rather than sophisticated balancing. for example.this kind of dialogue may not resolve the issue. the existence of God and the nature of His will. But getting rid of question-begging talk of “rights” and establishing some common ground about advantages and disadvantages may help focus the issue. and therefore I’m rejecting.

” etc. “Animal Testing: The Harms Outweigh the Benefits!” Once again. and at the end of the day one’s underlying thought is as thoroughly consequentialist as can be. But sometimes rights talk persists long after the sense of clarity and absoluteness has faded. but dogmatism all the same. “Animals Have Rights.“balancing rights. rights talk captures the apparent clarity of the issue and absoluteness of the answer. what deontological language does best is express the thoughts of people struck by strong. Best to drop it. 302 . of the thousands of children whose lives are saved by drugs that were tested on animals and the “rights” of those children. except for the fact that the deontological gloss adds nothing and furthers the myth that there really are “rights. One finds oneself balancing the “rights” on both sides by asking how many rabbit lives one is willing to sacrifice in order to save one human life. However. When deontological talk gets sophisticated. and so on. emotional moral intuitions: “It doesn’t matter that you can save five people by pushing him to his death. Once again. Too!” rather than. it’s likely that when some people talk about “balancing competing rights and obligations” they are already thinking like consequentialists in spite of their use of deontological language. for example. the thought it represents is either dogmatic in an esoteric sort of way or covertly consequentialist. despite the deontological gloss. 19 See “The Trolley Problem” in Thomson (1986). And what’s wrong with that? Nothing.” then we are wise to shun this sort of talk. To do this would be a violation of his rights!”19 That is why angry protesters say things like. Attempting to solve moral problems using a complex deontological algorithm is dogmatism at its most esoteric. One thinks.

“Will we allow abortion?” makes it sound like the issue is one of predicting the future. “Should2 abortion be legal?” or of translating the phrase. 5. as we would expect. For example how would a revisionist ask.” For this reason.” or “They must….” “I’m opposed to….” “I support….2 Calling it Like We See It: “True” Values and Morally Loaded Words Ask a conservative why she supports tougher sentencing standards for juvenile criminals or opposes expanding welfare and she may say something about 303 . “Shall we allow abortion?” and “Are we to allow abortion?” both sound a bit too realist. “Should abortion be legal?” One could ask. as if our votes have been cast and it’s simply a matter of tallying them.” or “He should…. not so bad as “rights” and “duties.” “I’m for. “the dispute over whether abortion should2 be legal.” but a bit more dangerous than “good” and “bad.” or “I’m against…” instead of “We ought to….What about “ought” and “should?” These words are more or less equally comfortable in the mouths of deontologists and consequentialists. and. As far as I can see.” It’s a bit hard to let go of these words in non-asserted contexts. revisionists may have to settle for “ought” and “should” for use in non-asserted contexts. not to mention stilted.” In asserted contexts one can avoid them by saying “I favor….” “I recommend…. there is no standard English way of asking the anti-realist question.2.. “Are we for or against abortion?” but this sounds like a question about our current position.

” Likewise if you ask a liberal why he supports lighter sentences for juveniles and the expansion of welfare programs. but they do nothing to help liberals appreciate their conservative point of view. the ones who don’t believe in responsibility. Conservatives know that liberals do not say. but.” As a result. Liberals. just as conservatives do when liberals claim that conservatives don’t really care about people. liberals know that conservatives don’t say.” Likewise. in spite of what they say. what they believe in isn’t really responsibility. Or. he will likely say that he cares about people. Conservatives and liberals see the world in different moral colors. the answer lies in moral psychology.” but more likely she will say something like this: “I support tougher sentences for juveniles and scaling back welfare because I believe in responsibility. they don’t really believe in responsibility. above all else. will say that they believe in responsibility. claim conservatives. “Yep. of course. talk this way when it’s so manifestly futile? As ever. someone in 20 Much of what I say in this section is drawn from George Lakoff. liberals will say that conservatives don’t really care about helping people. the ones who don’t care about people. They don’t know what responsibility really is. Likewise. Why do so many people. that’s us. to put the point more clearly. Moral Politics (1996). 304 .what’s “right” or “wrong.20 A conservative looks at a juvenile criminal on the witness stand and sees. that’s us. “Yep. conservatives who loudly proclaim that liberals don’t believe in responsibility may score points with other conservatives. Liberals dismiss such accusations as ignorant nonsense. even those who would like to have a constructive dialogue.

both of them are calling it like they see it. the conservative’s to-be-punished-ness and the liberal’s to-be-cared-for-ness. Thus when conservatives say. If they did. When responsibility stares them in the face. Nor do they believe in true compassion. a product of unfortunate circumstance. “I’m a liberal because I care about people. are mere projections. Liberals and conservatives alike see themselves as 305 . they ignore it without apology. And they don’t really give a hoot about responsibility either. and when liberals say. To the conservative. you don’t spare the rod. it is perfectly clear that responsibility demands tough sentencing. A liberal looks at the same young man and sees. above all else. They don’t realize that the values they are projecting onto. If you really care about the child. a bundle of anger and frustration crying out for attention—time for tough love.” implying that conservatives don’t. they ignore it without apology. the liberal wonders how anyone with even a shred of compassion could send this screwed up kid who’s trying to get by the only way he knows how to an adult prison where he will be brutalized day after day. The liberal concludes that conservatives must not really care at all. say. they would acknowledge the responsibility we all have to help our society’s most troubled youth. When hardship stares them in the face. At the same time. They don’t realize that what they see isn’t really there. the conservative concludes that liberals must not believe in responsibility.desperate need of serious discipline—time for tough love.” implying that liberals don’t. juvenile criminals. “I’m a conservative because I believe in responsibility. year after year. the liberal says. and when liberals wants to “coddle” young criminals instead of sending them up for some hard time.

doing nothing more than heeding the call. Understand that in the context of political disagreement. Make no mistake. but it does nothing to foster mutual understanding between Americans and the millions of people who sympathize with Osama Bin Laden. Western reader. the one’s that best express the intuitions one feels. and those who do otherwise are either blind to it or willfully ignoring it. just like you. Conservatives think that if they just say the word “responsibility” enough times they will get through. Liberals do the same thing with their favored phrases and laugh when George W. Nor 306 . I’m against Bin Laden. but morally loaded words like “terrorist. compassion. as opposed to heeding some other call. mean different things to different people and that in using these words one is using mere words. freedom. or courage. Understand that moral realism is false and that there is no true version of responsibility. namely responsibility. all the most energizing words. Bush calls himself a “compassionate conservative.” What to do about this? Answer: Understand what’s going on and stop talking past one another. I am not defending Bin Laden’s actions or adopting a “relativist” moral2 position. And what holds for abstract words like “responsibility” and “compassion” also holds for more concrete. My point is simply that insofar as we are interested in communicating with the multitudes who think Bin Laden has a point. we would be wise to stop calling him a “terrorist. etc.” in spite of how perfectly justified it feels.” Calling Osama Bin Laden a “terrorist” is great for firing up Americans and generating domestic support for a military campaign. get those befuddled liberals to see what’s staring them in the face.

unlike desires. but. I recommend replacing realist moral talk with talk about what one “cares about” etc. We prefer ours. are capable of being true or false. we have ours. as I’ve argued. when they can talk about 307 . but that doesn’t mean that they “hate freedom. Real political dialogue can occur only when people have a common currency for the exchange of moral ideas. we are not to be distinguished from the Taliban by our belief in freedom. But nothing is gained when we claim proprietary ownership of the word. In general.” Every society restricts the freedoms it deems less important in order to maximize the freedoms it deems more important. Talking about what one “believes in” when talking about one’s values is a bad idea in general because it suggests realism. and freedom. Beliefs. there are dangers here as well. we deeply value our kind of freedom. their ideal society is objectively more restrictive than ours.” Granted.does it make much sense to describe the Taliban as people who “hate freedom. Indeed. pointing at things they just don’t see. One gets nowhere by saying or implying that the opposition doesn’t care about things like responsibility. compassion. even if that’s what appearances suggest.. Remember that what we see in our moral experiences are mere projections and that when we “call it like we see it” we end up talking past our opponents. in calling moral commitments “beliefs” one implies that one’s own moral commitments are true. They have their version. The same reasoning that leads people to label the Taliban “freedomhaters” could be used by anarchists to say the same of us. making them think that we’re crazy and vice versa. Contrary to our rhetoric. and therefore.

But seasoned writers know that persuasion lies not in telling readers what to think. Don’t Tell: A Lesson from the Art of Fiction Writers of fiction must shape their readers’ opinions about the characters and events they describe. but rather by being shown. We don’t learn how to be moral2 by being told.” are bound for disappointment.3 Show. Our primate ancestors. or even overtly evaluative language. Don’t editorialize. and let the reader (gently guided by the author.things they both can see. but rather in showing them what to think about: “Show. always in the background) draw her own conclusions. Don’t embellish. had only their actions and emotional expressions to guide their young. We turn to the establishment of this common currency in Section 5.2.” “Don’t judge. Beginning writers inevitably attempt to do this by telling their readers what to think. not as I do. like chimpanzees. This makes sense given the psychology of moral development. by describing characters and events using overtly evaluative language.” Simply describe the fictional facts as clearly and vividly as possible. Good writers know that moral persuasion does not require moral language. 5. Just stick to the facts. Moralistic language was not an 308 . Adults who expect children to “Do as I say. and this should come as no surprise given the biological origins of our moral/social dispositions.3. Don’t Tell. Simple descriptions speak more eloquently than do torrents of praise and blame.

” If. They have to “get into it. I’m likely to believe you if you say that they are “sleazy. a child’s moral sense develops largely in response to non-linguistic cues. Their opinions are reinforced. adults can still appreciate this kind of writing. Don’t Tell” rule. 22 Of course. too.” This sounds like a line from a children’s book because it employs persuasive methods that.” I. would insult the intelligence of most adult readers.” 309 . and that is in the case of children’s literature. Moralistic editorializing is nothing more than a distraction. we learn from experience. which is why writers of children’s literature can get away with saying things like. by strong moral language. There is an important exception to the “Show. but not in the same way. and what a good novel or film does is give us vicarious experience. on the other hand. but at the same time. most notably individuals and groups. antecedent opinion to the contrary. you say that my friend Antoinette or high school teachers are “sleazy. not them.option. but to do so they must adopt a child’s mindset. horrible man with a heart of stone. having a firm. If I have no experience with Simon or with the Mormons. except in cases concerning unfamiliar objects of interest. though appropriate for children. not shaped. the more concrete and detailed the better.22 21 Adults respond to such language. I will think less of you.21 Moral language persuades best when opinions are not yet formed. Billings was an awful. “Mr. According to the social intuitionist model. Like them. we should expect children to be more susceptible than adults to the opinion-shaping influence of strong moral language.

If what’s lacking in ordinary moral thought is. might does not make “right. and get rid of the most overtly judgmental. and scold them as if they were belligerent children when they fail to respond the first time. then the subtle. at one another—as if their interlocutors failed to pay adequate attention on the day elementary morality was explained. is likely to be a good thing. rather. I suspect that literary approaches to moral communication. Disputants speak to one another—or. a bit of healthy detachment from emotional moral intuitions. among other things. for example. Using literary techniques to make the suffering of others vivid. Not knowing what else to do. In contrast. like nearly all tools. (For a sympathetic view of the literary approach to 310 . Stick to the facts. may be used for good or ill.” If the persuasive methods employed by fiction writers are effective. What to do about this? Take a cue from good writers. Of course. largely emotional persuasion of the fiction writer may be a step in the wrong direction. Unaware of the projective nature of value. they marvel at their opponents’ blindness.Most moral discourse is the conversational equivalent of children’s literature. the chisel is mightier than the sledgehammer. the reinforcement of prejudices and knee-jerk moral responses through literary persuasion is unlikely to help. it doesn’t necessarily follow that we would be wise to promote their use in moral discourse. Keep evaluative language to a minimum. their utter failure to see what is so perfectly obvious. they scold their opponents as if they were children. moralistic language. When it comes to changing the minds of people with well-entrenched opinions.

but most of what we have to go on are the background considerations presented in Chapters 3 and 4 and the commentary of experts in the fields of negotiation and diplomacy. 1982). in my opinion as well as others’. is simply that the craft of fiction-writing suggests that effective moral communication does not require. The effects of moral1 thought and language on negotiation and conflict resolution have not been studied scientifically. Their views have been much criticized. the exposition of which is often a regrettable muddle of description and prescription. A bit of relevant empirical work has been done (Trainer. if only because one does not ordinarily distinguish between moral1 and moral2 thought. though very natural. not to be confused with the tradition of “moral realism” in ethics. but also. 23 The experts in diplomacy and international affairs cited below are allied to varying degrees with the “realist” tradition in political thought. I do. and may even be hindered by. however.4 Get Off Your High Horse: A Lesson from the Art of Negotiation and Diplomacy Based on the picture of moral psychology developed in Chapter 3. much misunderstood. believe that their hard-won insights concerning the destructive nature of moralistic 311 .2. 5. I’ve no intention at this time to defend their political worldview.23 which. is likely to be counterproductive.public moral issues see Nussbaum (1995). I have argued that realist moral communication.) My point here. overtly moral language. however.

But it makes our adversary even less willing to listen to what we have to say. Nevertheless I believe their comments are instructive and suggestive. They are murderers and violators of international law. perhaps. among third parties. It makes it less likely that our adversary will make the decision we want (Pg. language and thought are valuable. In order to get them to change their minds. director of the Harvard Negotiation Project: Officials think of themselves as acting in morally legitimate ways. But this is the opposite of what most governments do. 112). Such characterization helps rally support for our side both domestically and. are based on personal experience rather than quantitative study. But then the opposition becomes much harder to deal with… We justify our actions in Vietnam by identifying our adversaries as evil aggressors acting in a grossly illegitimate way. and this may work. we have to appeal to their sense of right and wrong. attempting to whip up support by demonizing the opposition. From Basic Negotiating Strategy (1971) by Roger Fisher. though certainly not the last word on the matter. 312 . They are behaving outrageously.unfortunately. First they appeal to their own people’s sense of right and wrong.

history. 35)?” In general.An attempt to point out to an adversary that he ought to make a decision where the ‘oughtness’ is based on our ideas of fairness. or morality is at best a diversion from the immediate task at hand. 113). 28). principle. 313 . 17). it is more useful to draft statements that describe feelings and the impact of what others do than to draft statements that judge or describe others (Pg. Governments too often regard their task as that of adopting a morally and politically justifiable posture or attitude rather than that of obtaining the best results that can be obtained under the circumstances (Pg. From Joseph Montville (1993) in Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice: Societies moralize to strengthen commitment to laws and codes and promote group cohesion. how can we move forward (Pg. Countries with absolutist moralities makes resolution harder. at worst it is destructive of the result we want (Pg. From Beyond Machiavelli (1994) by the same author: A more useful question than “Who is right?” is: “Given these strong partisan perceptions.

Of course they are irritated: many Americans perceive that select role for themselves. more important.From “Assuming the Moral High Ground” in Negotiation Across Cultures (1991) by Raymond Cohen: American negotiators tend to be intensely irritated by Indian moralism. who served in India in both the 1950s and the 1970s comments wittily that negotiating with Indians is intensely frustrating because it is. R. Kennan in “Morality and Foreign Policy” (1985): Let us note that there are no internationally accepted standards of morality to which the U. exposure of lapses leads to lack of credibility. When rivals contend in terms of moral attitudes not only does compromise become difficult but.S. 314 . V. Making this point. government could appeal if it wished to act in the name 24 Cited by Cohen (1991). the assumption that India is somehow the repository of righteousness and objective truth in the world. Chandrasekhara Rao (1976). Paul Kreisberg. ‘like negotiating with yourself!’ From R.24 From George F.

207). the Yalta Declaration on Liberated Europe. one probably is not. that whenever one has the agreeable sensation of being impressively moral. considering that such is their vagueness that the mere act of subscribing to them carries with it no danger of having one’s freedom of action significantly impaired. in personal and in public life. What one does without selfconsciousness or self-admiration. To this category of pronouncements belong such documents as the Kellog-Briand Pact. the Atlantic Charter. It is a sad feature of the human predicament. From “The Necessity of Amorality in Foreign Affairs” (1971) by Arthur Schlesinger: 315 . as a matter of duty or common decency.of moral principles. and the prologues of innumerable other international agreements (Pg. [We should avoid] what might be called the histrionics of moralism at the expense of its substance. It is true that there are certain words and phrases sufficiently high-sounding the world over so that most governments. when asked to declare themselves for or against. and rhetoric that cause us to appear noble and altruistic in the mirror of our own vanity but lack substance when related to the realities of international life. By that is meant the projection of attitudes. poses. will cheerfully subscribe to them. 212). is apt to be closer to the real thing (Pg.

the most ghastly of consequences. Moralists tend to prefer symbolic to substantive politics. The moralization of foreign affairs encourages. Little has been more pernicious in international politics than excessive righteousness (Pg. But it fosters dangerous misconceptions about the nature of foreign policy… A deeper trouble is inherent in the very process of pronouncing moral judgments on foreign policy. Those who see foreign affairs as made up of questions of right and wrong begin by supposing they know better than other people what is right for them. The more passionately they believe they are right. the more likely they are to reject expediency and accommodation and seek the final victory of their principles.It is not only that moral principles are of limited use in the conduct of foreign affairs. It is also that the compulsion to see foreign policy in moral terms may have. with the noblest intentions. For the man who converts conflicts of interest and circumstance into conflicts of good and evil necessarily invests himself with moral superiority. 73). Laying down the moral law to sinning brethren from our seat of judgment no doubt pleases our own sense of moral rectitude. They tend to see foreign policy as a means not of influencing events but of registering virtuous attitudes (Pg. 316 . for example. a misunderstanding of the nature of foreign policy. 73).

From Thompson’s Moralism and Morality in Politics and Diplomacy (1985): 317 . You know you are hitting women and children. As early as 1965 the New York Times quoted an American pilot: ‘I do not like to hit a village. 77).The primary motive [for getting involved in Vietnam]. and moral absolutism was the final stop. it seems probably in retrospect. 76). local questions in global terms. justice. But you’ve got to decide that your cause is noble and that the work has to be done. and peace among nations (Pg. The Indochina war was a morality trip. 77).’ In this anointed spirit we conceived ourselves the world’s judge. jury. and executioner and did our work in Indochina (Pg. It was the insistence on seeing the civil war in Vietnam as above all a moral issue that led us to construe political questions in ethical terms. An intelligent regard for one’s own national interest joined to unremitting respect for the interests of others seems more likely than the invocation of moral absolutes to bring about greater restraint. It was rather a precise consequence of the belief that moral principles should govern decisions of policy. had little to do with national interest at all. and relative questions in absolute terms (Pg.

3 Hurrah for Utilitarianism! “Utilitarian: one who believes that the morally right action is the one with the best consequences. a creature generally believed to be endowed with the propensity to ignore their [sic] own 318 . freedom-loving and communist states and based foreign policy on such a distinction (Pg. 5.Another version of morality is that of Manicheim which portrays the world in radical terms of absolute good and evil or right and wrong. Manicheimism is a false religion which sees the world as divided between good guys and bad guys and this disease has infected American thinking on foreign policy. Americans are predisposed to a form of Manicheimism by childhood distinctions between good guys and bad guys or cops and robbers (Pg. we have divided the world into peace-loving and aggressor. Since World War I. so far as the distribution of happiness is concerned. it has floundered in the long run because an individual or nation who claims an achieved morality that others have a duty to follow does so on an assumption of having itself attained moral perfection. 26). 15). Whatever the short-run advantages of [appeals to abstract principle].

you can hate utilitarianism for making the downtrodden worse off in order to make the well off even better off (Rawls. If you think that life is sacred. 1974).au/~henry/gloss. including your own life.drowning children in order to push buttons which will cause mild sexual gratification in a warehouse full of rabbits”25 To a connoisseur of normative moral theories. you can hate utilitarianism for telling you to give up nearly everything you’ve got to provide for total strangers (Singer. If you see the attainment of a high quality of life for all of humanity as a reasonable goal. If you love equality. 1986). you can hate utilitarianism for suggesting that a world full people whose lives are barely worth living may be an even better goal (Parfit. This view is so widely reviled because it has something for everyone to hate. the sick.html as of 3/1/02) 319 .” (http://philrsss. If you think it reasonable to provide a nice life for yourself and your family. Unger. 1996). and on top of that you can hate it for telling you in the same breath that you may not be allowed to eat meat (Singer. 1979).edu. If it’s important to you that your experiences be 25 From Henry Fitzgerald. the unborn. nothing says “outmoded and ridiculous” quite like utilitarianism. 1984). should a peculiar monster with a taste for human flesh have a sufficiently strong desire to eat you (Nozick.anu. 1971). you can hate utilitarianism for telling you to kidnap people and steal their organs (Thomson. you can hate utilitarianism for telling you to kill the dying. and even the newborn. you can hate utilitarianism for telling you to lie. If you love honesty. 1972. “A Non-Philosopher’s Guide to Philosophical Terms. If you hate doing awful things to people.

With some trepidation. Brandt (1979). 1981). Wright (1994). (In other words I reject both the realist-cognitivist and expressivist versions of utilitarianism. I will use “happiness” and “utility” interchangeably. and like many who have come before me.26 Utilitarianism is a philosophy that only… well.) Nor do I recommend a utilitarian approach to every domain of moral life. 1973). Smart (1961.28 I do not claim that utilitarianism is true or correct.genuine. but in a non-standard way. 320 . I modestly recommend utilitarianism as a public standard29 for evaluating actions and policies.27 I will defend a utilitarian approach to morality. No matter what you value most. Hare (1981). your values will eventually conflict with the utilitarian’s principle of greatest good and. Singer (1979). Mill (1998). you can hate utilitarianism for telling you that no matter how good your life is. 28 For my purposes there is no need to settle on a particular version of utilitarianism. The defense of utilitarianism I offer is similar in spirit to Robert Wright’s (1994). as a meta-policy that is likely to meet the 26 27 Unless. only a utilitarian could love. Instead. your values happen to be perfectly utilitarian. Nor do I claim that it is somehow built into or presupposed by our moral concepts or language (Hare. 29 See also Goodin (1995). Sidgwick (1890). be crushed by it. but the type I have in mind is a hedonic version according to which the best action is the one that maximizes the overall level of happiness. if he has his way. of course. To name a few: Bentham (1982). you would be better off with your brain hooked up to a machine that gives you unnaturally pleasant artificial experiences.

And with deontology and the realism it reflects discredited. I claim. is an empirical claim. See the final footnote of this section. 321 . is a good thing. that increasing the happiness of someone who deserves to suffer for her crimes is not a good thing.30 This.31 More specifically. psychological. sociological. In claiming this I am not. anti-realist environment.needs of people who have come to terms with the metaphysical. follows not logically from the truth about morality. but given the dearth of psychologically and metaphysically informed moral thinkers to serve as subjects. in a roundabout way. and that lowering someone’s happiness is a bad thing. my speculations will have to suffice for now. utilitarian harms and benefits matter to everyone. claiming that utilitarianism is true. but psychologically. either your own or someone else’s. and evolutionary truth about morality. the utilitarian approach is. Utilitarianism. Nearly everyone is a utilitarian to some extent. of course. drawing deontological moral lines and expecting others whose inclinations are otherwise to respect those lines just seems silly. I claim. 31 Some people would say. Nearly everyone agrees that all other things being equal raising someone’s level of happiness. thus making them a badly needed common 30 See Blackburn (1993a) on affinity between projectivism and consequentialism. simply what’s left. and in the same general way. Once we’ve put some distance between ourselves and our intuitions. In the last section I explained why deontological talk is likely to fail in a psychologically informed. once we know where our intuitions come from and understand that they are not messengers of moral truth. for example. It’s what you’re likely to want once you know the truth.

First (Strategy 1). as when one decides to give a spare theater ticket to one friend rather than another because one believes she will enjoy it more than the other. Utilitarians typically defend their position against such common sense objections in two main ways. and doing this often leads to moral judgments that seem wrong.” but this is really a problem of precision and certainty rather than a problem with the meaningfulness of such comparisons.currency for moral exchange. utilitarians attempt to discredit anti-utilitarian moral intuitions by interpreting them as the 32 Some people have worried about “the problem of interpersonal comparisons of utility. sometimes dreadfully wrong. but when they talk about harms and benefits in terms of human happiness and suffering. Second (Strategy 2).32 But in spite of the virtually universal acceptance of utilitarian currency. one must take nothing else into account. To earn that distinction one must not only take utilitarian considerations into account. That is. pro-choice liberals can acknowledge that restricting abortion rights would have some good effects. just as pro-life conservatives can acknowledge that keeping abortion legal would have some good effects. As noted above. Interpersonal comparisons of utility are perfectly commonplace. 322 . one must assess all actions and outcomes solely in terms of their effects on the total level of happiness. they argue that often utilitarianism merely seems to have counterintuitive implications. They may disagree about the balance of these harms and benefits and about what other considerations are important. See Harsanyi (1982). as suggested above. they are speaking to and not past each other. almost no one is a full-blown utilitarian.

our intuitions can no longer be seen as messengers of moral truth. even ones concerning unrealistic hypothetical cases. but I will also introduce a new tactic (Strategy 3). Second. One might object to this view by pointing out that it would lead to significant harm if everyone flushed her toilet at the stroke of midnight. If moral realism were true. be a realist and think that one’s moral intuitions are not even reasonably good guides to moral truth.34 The extent to which we take them as authoritative is up to us. and this means defending it against all common sense intuitive objections. 33 But in rejecting realism two important things change. in principle. And this makes sense given the psychological account of moral realism offered in Chapter 3: We’re realists because we find our intuitions so compelling. 35 Take. one can. a moral theory according to which an action is wrong if everyone’s performing that action would lead to significant harm. one grounded in the meta-ethical conclusions reached in Chapter 2.products of reasonable moral dispositions or heuristics that have been overextended. to defend utilitarianism is to defend it as the truth. 34 Of course. Thus. I will employ a bit of each of these strategies. First. intuitions concerning unrealistic cases need not be terribly important. we would presumably aim to act in accordance with the true moral theory. under realism. proper use of our language/concepts would require an allencompassing utilitarian outlook. for example. but I know of no one who adopts this unusual view. if utilitarianism were somehow built into our moral language or concepts.35 A practical guideline need not 33 Likewise. overburdening the sewage 323 .

36 Thus. it just needs to do the job here and now. Indirect principles such as “Do that of which we would approve if we were fully informed and fully rational. each of whom is about to die due to some kind of organ failure. but for the same reason they fail miserably as practical guidelines. even though our moral sense tells us that flushing one’s toilet at the stroke of midnight is not wrong. You’re a doctor with five patients. we’d have to find a new theory (or modified version of this one) that circumvents this gimmicky counterexample.be an iron-clad rule that we would want to live by in all possible worlds. for example. If we were in search of the moral truth. then we can ignore this objection because it’s exceedingly unlikely to be a problem in the real world. more demanding in others. In walks a healthy person whose organs you system and causing dangerous floods. I will argue that utilitarianism. However. 36 Less demanding in some ways. unlike other theories. and therefore the standards for evaluating practical moral guidelines are far less demanding than those for evaluating moral theories that purport to be true.” do very well when it comes to avoiding troubling counterexamples because they don’t offer any practical guidance. 324 . Thomson’s (1986) transplant case. once we’ve abandoned our realist ambitions. we can dismiss objections to utilitarianism (and other theories) that are not sufficiently realistic. The first main objection to utilitarianism is that it would have us do intuitively awful and unfair things. survives the transition from candidate moral truth to candidate practical guideline very well. Take. if we’re just looking for a practical guideline.

but utilitarianism says otherwise. it would still be wrong for him to perform this operation. if not the world. Forget about doing the “right” thing for the “wrong” reason. of people would die or suffer serious health problems for fear of visiting their doctors. Intuitively. Now we jump to Strategy 3. saving five lives at the expense of one. The fact that you wouldn’t be able to get away with this operation isn’t what makes it wrong. not an eternal moral code that handles fantasy cases as well as real ones or that tells us which among our reasons for action are 325 . We’re just looking for a practical guideline. One might object that all of these practical considerations are beside the point. maybe thousands. And how would you guard your secret? Would you perform five transplant operations by yourself? And won’t people wonder what happened to the guy who died. Forget about Superman. To put the objection another way. that Clark Kent had gone into medicine instead of journalism. If word of your clandestine activities were to get out. Most people have a clear intuition that it would be wrong to do this. or why his body is missing half his organs? And won’t the organ recipients wonder where their organs came from? And so on. and thus. Hundreds. a utilitarian may employ Strategy 1.could harvest against his will and then distribute to the other five people. the objection goes. Utilitarianism doesn’t really tell you to perform this secret operation because it is so unlikely to achieve a net benefit. and so forth. a clear strike against it. an apparent strike against utilitarianism. one can imagine a situation in which these practical difficulties can be overcome. Suppose. for example. utilitarianism gets the right answer. panic would set in around the nation. but for the wrong reason. In response to this objection.

moreover.37 Even if sometimes. we point out that the fact that utilitarianism would endorse such behavior under highly unrealistic conditions is irrelevant. Why not manufacture some? He’s probably guilty anyway. eroding the public’s trust even further. Surely the secret will come out eventually. but not enough evidence to convict him. we point out the practical difficulties in doing this and the awful risk one would take in trying. we point out that a publicly acknowledged standard allowing law enforcement officials to manufacture evidence at their own discretion would 37 38 This constraint is essentially the same as Rawls’ (1971) “publicity condition. we would clearly be worse off if our laws gave health-care providers that sort of discretion. And. Applying Strategy 1. 326 . under bizarre circumstances. we’re looking for a workable public standard. etc. Applying Strategy 3. and the conviction would do a lot of good. Surely some journalists will look into it. an example to hold up to other would-be criminals and those who’ve lost faith in law enforcement. Moreover. Suppose there is an epidemic of crime. Suppose further that the police have in their custody a man who is almost certainly guilty.” This invocation of “rule utilitarianism” does not suffer from the usual problem of collapsing into “act-utilitarianism” because rules of the sort that we could actually use as public standards must be relatively simple and not allow officials too much discretion over their interpretation.38 This utilitarian one-two punch works against similar objections. Surely the man will claim that he’d been framed. it would better to perform this sort of secret operation. and that the police could get a lot of mileage out of a high-profile conviction.philosophically privileged.

a voice in favor of abolishing it. “Who Cares? There aren’t any utility monsters around here.clearly not serve the greater good. and political decisionmaking. our intuitions are somewhat constrained by utilitarianism. there is. sooner or later. Take the case of drunk driving. having moralized the issue with the help of organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving—what better moral authority than Mom?—we are prepared to impose very stiff penalties on people who aren’t really “bad people.” I believe that this pattern is quite general. thus making this charge irrelevant for the purposes of creating public standards for moral. even fun. and as a result it is often possible to devise cases in which our intuitions conflict with utilitarianism. Our intuitions are not utilitarian. even if the voice is not explicitly utilitarian. Nozick’s (1974) famous “utility monster” objection. legal. we would each be obliged to feed ourselves to this monster so long as the utility he gains from eating us is sufficiently large to outweigh the utility losses we incur. as anti-realists in search of a useful practical guideline rather than a true theory. we are free to say. but we’ve learned the hard way that this intuitively innocuous. activity is tremendously damaging. Suppose there is a creature that gets incredible amounts of utility out of gobbling people up. Drinking is okay.” people with 327 . Driving is okay. and when a practice is terribly anti-utilitarian. But at the same time. This is because we care about utilitarian outcomes. Doing both at the same time isn’t such an obviously horrible thing to do. And now. nor are there ever likely to be. Take another famous objection to utilitarianism. Once again. According to utilitarianism.

we are willing to let him die in order to stand by our policy which. morally speaking. and what could be a greater violation of your “rights” than your government’s sending you. as severely as we would punish violent criminals.com/About/Drive-Now/. As I write. an American journalist is being held hostage by a group of Islamic militants in Pakistan.41 39 A campaign against talking on the phone while driving is underway. but the U. is bound to save more lives in the future. for acting on that reasonable and humane disposition when the utilitarian stakes are sufficiently high. They say they will kill him if their demands are not met. The disposition to avoid situations in which one must kill people and risk being killed is not such an awful disposition to have. (Note: Journalist Daniel Pearl was eventually killed by his kidnappers.) 328 . As much as we would like to save this man’s life. See http://cartalk. 40 For any given individual it’s only a risk of death. an innocent person. though emotionally difficult to live with.cars. 41 Another example is our policy of non-negotiation with politically motivated kidnappers. We punish drunk driving and related offenses in a way that appears (or once appeared) disproportionately harsh because we’ve paid the utilitarian costs of not doing so.39 The same might be said of harsh penalties applied to wartime deserters and draft-dodgers. At least that’s the idea. off to die against your will?40 Nevertheless we are willing to punish people severely.S. government has refused to negotiate with them. but it’s still a severe imposition.no general anti-social tendencies.

42 The crucial point illustrated by both cases. and therefore the prohibition against it rests on a somewhat thin.Drunk-driving and the shirking of military duty are real-world problems that produce serious harms. The clearest sort of exception to this principle are situations that resemble those in the prisoner’s dilemma.43 And this is why doing the utilitarian thing is less often counter-intuitive in real-world situations as compared to fantasy cases. intellectual appreciation of a cause-effect connection. and probably biologically. there are still plenty of real-world cases in which our intuitions are anti-utilitarian. although this is certainly not always the case. That said. cases concerning bizarre situations in which the cues that set off our moral alarm bells are curiously divorced from the consequences that usually accompany them. is that big utilitarian considerations tend to work their way into our moral norms provided that they concern real-world phenomena from which we can learn. Drunk-driving is a relatively recent phenomenon. See Section 5. 329 .2. situations in which the optimal strategy for achieving individual survival/happiness leads to outcomes that are far from optimal in terms of collective survival/happiness. however. Consider the proviso “provided that they concern real-world 42 43 See Fehr and Gachter (2002). either through explicit learning or through cultural and/or biological adaptation.4. and therefore it’s no surprise that we have strong prohibitions against them in spite of their being born of dispositions that are really not so bad. The prohibitions against desertion and draft-dodging rest on moral counter-dispositions that run much deeper culturally.

the subject of this essay. As I argued in Chapter 4. Once again. and we now face a great many relatively new problems. but that really aren’t.” Learning takes time. Likewise.e. anyway) have yet to pay those costs.cases from which we can learn. problems that may impose utilitarian costs like the world has never known. (See Section 5. Now. We can view this as a problem with the newness of the “we” who must learn. is that of dealing with our moral differences now that we live in a world in which people with very different moral sensibilities must coexist. however. we (most of us. an option that feels morally obligatory in spite of its lack of utilitarian value. “We are the world. in other cases. Our evolving moral sensibilities haven’t had time to absorb the utilitarian costs associated with these behaviors.4. For most of human existence “we” was a village. an option that is very useful but morally repugnant or. the most general new problem we face. Unlike personal violence and other classic moral violations.” in all of our glorious and troubling diversity.) Above I gestured toward behaviors and policies that seem acceptable. Fortunately. these tend to be in response to relatively new moral issues. The flip side. to use a once popular phrase. In dealing with such discrepancies between 330 . is that we’ve yet to learn how to avoid these costs the way we usually learn. so far as long-run human happiness is concerned. there are actions and policies that strike us as unacceptable. i. the hard way. global warming and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction etc. but that really aren’t so bad from a utilitarian point of view. cases in which technology has given us an option that’s been unavailable for most of human history. pose new problems.

vegetarianism. even in circumstances such as these. would furnish us with strong reactions against ending the lives of infants under all circumstances. We will understand why natural selection. is just plain wrong. I believe that people who understand the history behind our moral intuitions are more likely to reach utilitarian conclusions concerning such cases. In section 5.common sense intuition and utilitarianism. Take Peter Singer’s (1979. to be allowed to end their infant’s life. although it is less common in cultures in which resources are more abundant such as our own. They have strong moral intuitions that tell them that ending an infant’s life. and infanticide to matters of personal harm of the sort dramatized in the trolley and footbridge cases. Do we care about preserving life? Not life 44 Intuitions against killing one’s own baby may not be as widespread as we Westerners tend to think. Having no true moral principles to guide us. But those of us who understand the etiology of these intuitions and know the meta-ethical truth will likely take a different view. I invoke Strategy 2. in some cases at least.44 We also know that there’s no such thing as a right to life and that life is not sacred. Infanticide has been practiced in many cultures. 331 . 1995) suggestion that the parents of an infant with a severely debilitating and incurable disease ought. reinforced by cultural norms. Many people find this suggestion appalling. we will simply consider the things we care about.1 I explained how a better understanding of our moral intuitions and where they come from can change the way we think about a wide range of issues from consensual incest to bioethical issues such as abortion. the psychological debunking of intuitions.

come to utilitarian conclusions. Perhaps it’s some characteristic that humans happen to have that matters. and resources to a healthier child. it does not follow that a revisionist anti-realist must. 332 . She could embrace the intuition that ending the life of an infant is always just plain wrong. especially ones with severe mental disabilities.per se. on pain of inconsistency. as a general rule. As anti-realists we must presume that the universe has no special preference for Homo sapiens. One thing we do care about is the happiness/desires of the relevant parties.) seem to be characteristics that infants lack. this seems rather arbitrary. to leave the decisions up to the people whose lives are most affected by them. If caring for a severely disabled infant would be a great burden to its parents. I believe this is unlikely to happen. self-awareness. The problem is that those sorts of characteristics (rationality. so long as they are capable of making them? Taking all of these considerations into account. if that’s what they want. for the reasons I’ve given. Is it human life that matters? Knowing that humans are not metaphysically privileged. something that other species could have but don’t. then is it really in that child’s interest to live? And what about the interests of the child or children that would live in its place? And when it’s not clear what would actually promote the greatest happiness. etc. especially when they could devote their time. isn’t it best. But. What about the infant? If the child’s life is going to be a drawn-out painful struggle culminating in an early death. love. then surely that is at least a point in favor of letting them move on with their lives. even while knowing that this intuitive judgment is not true. We’ re willing to kill animals when the stakes (and in some cases “steaks”) are pretty low.

utilitarianism demands that you turn yourself into a utility-maximizing machine. but more significant things as well. 2001) I deal with these objections as well. are not inclined to live like this. such as the pursuit of a career that is enjoyable but not maximally lucrative. which in today’s world probably means devoting all of your energy and resources to raising money for strangers. however. a mistake that Jonathan Baron and I (2001) documented experimentally. forgoing not only modest middle class luxuries such as dining in restaurants.There are other anti-utilitarian intuitions with which one must contend. Other influential critiques are Robert Nozick’s (1974) “experience machine” argument and Derek Parfit’s (1984) argument concerning the “repugnant conclusion. There is. Perhaps the most influential critique of utilitarianism is John Rawls’ in A Theory of Justice (1971). Strictly speaking. We middle class Westerners have. And this makes perfect evolutionary/psychological sense. it follows that anyone who seriously intends to maximize utility will have to devote the bulk of her resources to charitable activities. devoting resources to one’s family. Elsewhere I argue that Rawls’ critique is based on a mistaken understanding of utility. or even having a family. primarily through psychological debunking of the intuitions on which they depend. through our disposable income. We were not designed to be impartial 333 . even people who are generally sympathetic to utilitarianism. and since there are so many people who need our help. This is the objection that utilitarianism is too demanding. one important objection to utilitarianism that will not go away so easily. Most people. the ability to greatly improve the lives of many of the world’s less fortunate people.” Elsewhere (Greene.

Wright. 1994: Sober and Wilson. why 334 . Utilitarianism tells us to increase the world’s level of happiness as much as possible. 1984. We may have to make an ad hoc exception to our utilitarian guidelines in order to account for the fact that. but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m still selfish. to a lesser extent. How much of our national budget shall we devote to foreign aid? Whatever answer utilitarianism demands. our values are deeply un-utilitarian. from eating sushi to having a family.promoters of happiness. when it comes to the flow of resources to people outside of our privileged circles. knowing the scientific story behind our less-than-fully-utilitarian intuitions doesn’t do much to debunk them. at least not in practice. Axelrod. We were designed to spread our genes by serving ourselves and. it is surely far more than our nation would tolerate giving any time soon. especially kin and those with whom we are likely to have personal interaction. 1976. But in this case. Given its unreasonable demands. but we are by no means designed to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” especially our “neighbors” on the other side of the world. others. I know that I’m selfish. And yet my utilitarianism demands it. but I could certainly give more. and I know why I’m selfish. and as I look to the future I know that I am unlikely to sacrifice most of the things I want for myself. I give some money to charity. Altruism may have a strong innate basis (Dawkins. The same problem arises in the public domain. even as a practical guideline for public policy? In a sense we can’t. 1998). But here’s another way to look at it. how can we endorse utilitarianism. We readily acknowledge external constraints that narrow the range of possible actions.

” Take the ideal of perfect honesty. Note also that holding a principle as an ideal from which one intends to deviate is not a moral blank check. but that 335 . we may maintain utilitarianism as our ideal. Perhaps we can view the constraints imposed upon us by our psychology in the same light. but we can do our best to be as impartial as humanly possible. in this admittedly impractical sense. I don’t want people to be so thoroughly honest that they would refuse to lie in order to save a friend’s life.not internal ones? We wouldn’t fault ourselves for not performing a certain action if something external such as the weather made it impossible. I would do it. There is a difference between trying unsuccessfully to live up to an ideal and not even trying because one knows that one will not be able to so. When someone discards the request from Oxfam and says “I just can’t bring myself to do it. and for this reason I cannot honestly say that I maintain perfect honesty as an ideal. Maintaining an ideal from which one intends to deviate is more than saying. Thus. In contrast.” it may be difficult to tell whether that person has made a sincere effort or simply used a convenient excuse. Unlike Kant (1993). and to support institutions that foster greater impartiality. I can maintain the impartiality demanded by utilitarianism as an ideal. We can’t be perfectly impartial in doling out our resources because it’s simply not in our nature. if I could somehow rewire the human mind so that each of us would love one another as we currently love ourselves. Thus. even if one has no intention of being perfectly impartial. understanding that we will never live up to it. This separation of ideals from actions is not the cop-out it may appear to be. “It would be nice.

nor is it an adequate systematization of anyone’s values. that it is. I think. I’m happy to suppose that a world organized around utilitarian principles is what we would desire if we 336 . According to Smith. after all.45 45 I’ve argued that people who know the facts are likely to converge on utilitarianism. relying on our moral intuitions as guides to moral truth. As realists. to know one’s limitations and live relatively guilt free within them. I think. But as people who know the truth about morality in search of practical moral guidelines that people with different moral outlooks can share. everyone is a utilitarian in part. Have I not undone my anti-realism? Am I not saying that utilitarianism is. One must strike a balance between struggle and livability in one’s attempts to live the utilitarian life. utilitarianism is. Is this a recipe for madness? Constantly wrestling with one’s most natural human impulses? The problem is perhaps most stark when it comes to one’s personal relationships. true? No. in the end. we have every reason to reject utilitarianism. our best hope. one must be one’s own conscience. Utilitarianism is not true. But at the same time. Being true is not the same as being that upon which we would agree under favorable conditions. anyway. what’s right is what we would desire if we were fully informed and fully rational. Being a good utilitarian is tough. Shall I pay for my child’s birthday party only after finding that I just can’t bring myself to give the money to charity instead? It’s best. No one is a utilitarian at heart. as ever. the correct view.doesn’t mean that there’s no fact of the matter. Making one’s life a series of painful moral battles is unlikely to produce the best results in the long run. or at least on utilitarian values. and.

“The Tragedy of the Commons” (1968) I’ve argued that moral realism is perfectly natural.4 The Tragedy of Common Sense Morality and the Scientific Worldview “…but natural selection favors the forces of psychological denial. I don’t think we gain anything by calling utilitarianism “true” whether or not it is. have utilitarian values. suffers.5.” 337 . of which he is a part.” See also Scanlon (1998). At the same time. encouraged by the design of our minds. Education can counteract the natural tendency to do the wrong thing. As long as people’s values are anti-utilitarian they will simply deny my empirical claim that knowing the facts makes one’s values utilitarian. and once people know the facts they will. at which point it doesn’t really matter whether or we call the values we share “true” or just “our values. I’ve argued that moral realism. at least in our were fully informed and fully rational. More importantly. The individual benefits as an individual from his ability to deny the truth even though society as a whole. but I deny that that this makes utilitarianism true for reasons given in Chapter 2. but the inexorable succession of generations requires that the basis for this knowledge be constantly refreshed.” —Garrett Hardin. if I’m right. Similar remarks apply to Scanlon’s (1982) indirect theory of what is “right.

As a result.present context. but pays only a fraction of the cost (the harm to the environment). And since every herdsperson is in the same situation. Such commons problems are all too common. all of whose livestock graze on a common pasture. When a herdsperson adds an animal to his flock. I’ve suggested that we stop talking and thinking like realists. To remedy this problem. is free to increase the size of his flock. Because each herdsperson receives the full benefit of having an additional animal for himself but pays only a fraction of the cost. in the case of pollution. as. exacerbating conflict and promoting miscommunication both within and across national borders. the individual polluter receives the full benefit of his action (getting rid of his pollutants). is extremely pernicious. the benefits of raising and selling that animal accrue solely to him. to take Hardin’s example. But how is that going to happen? Getting a few philosophically inclined intellectuals to abandon common sense moral thought and language is not an outrageous goal. The problem of moral realism is an instance of Hardin’s “tragedy of the commons. but what about people in general? I think it’s useful to analyze this problem in decision-theoretical terms.” Tragedy ensues when individuals are free to overuse a public resource. leaving all of them with nothing. but because his animals graze on a common pasture the costs of raising that animal are spread throughout the community. when each of many herdspeople. it is in each herdsperson’s interest to add to his herd. pollution is profitable for the individual 338 . each pursuing his own self-interest will destroy their common resources. For example.

For example. if you prefer. Moral realism is. It pleases us to believe that we are morally right and that the opposition is morally wrong.polluter. being perceived as one—may give one a strategic advantage. you’re in very good shape. perhaps by being unwilling to compromise. punish others even when punishment carries a known net cost to the punisher (Fehr and Gachter. At the same time. and she can give you your named price. without some means of changing people’s incentives. even more to the point. making it more difficult for them to reach mutually satisfactory agreements with those around them. (A recent study strongly suggest that people punish altruistically.) Thus. at least. I claim. 339 . And aside from its potential strategic advantages. being a moral realist—or. moral realism feels good. a heretofore unrecognized form of pollution. Getting one’s just deserts is more satisfying than simply getting what one wants.46 Individuals who can convince others that they are unwilling to compromise. that is. realist individuals pollute the world with stubbornness and selfrighteousness or. deplete the world’s supply of reasonability and 46 See Schelling (1960). if you can convince your car salesman that you will settle for nothing less than your named price. 2002). and. the world grows increasingly polluted. and. are more likely to get what they want in a wide variety of strategic situations. When individuals think they have the Moral Truth on their side they are stubborn and uncompromising. giving the opposition their just deserts is more satisfying than simply preventing them from getting what they want.

That leaves only moral solutions. (See Section 5. presumably out of a sense of moral obligation to the community. We cannot make realist thought and language illegal. Clearly. at least) on other people. We can. we think. And we need not start from scratch.) Of course.4. build on this resentment of moralizing. I think the answer is yes. Every law is a restriction of freedom. Political solutions are reached when a governing body changes people’s incentive structures by punishing overuse of common resources. political solutions are generally more effective than moral solutions. I believe.willingness to compromise. we all do this to some extent. We are often resentful when people attempt to impose their moral views on others. They take their own morality a little too seriously by expecting others to take it as seriously as they do. Many people resent moralizing. go too far. they see this as bald faced 340 . When liberals encounter conservatives who want to put prayer back in public schools or oust a sitting president for lying about his sex life. What to do? Commons problems may be solved by one of two means. a political solution to the tragedy of common sense morality is not available. if only implicitly and tacitly. But some people. but moral solutions do work from time to time. The new twist is the realization that one person’s morality is another person’s moralizing. and therefore anyone who supports the rule of law imposes her moral views (moral2 views. When it comes to large-scale commons problems. which are achieved when individuals decide to change their behavior on their own. Could there be a moral solution to the problem of moral realism? Paradoxical as this may sounds. political and moral.2.

I’m just speaking up for doing the right and decent thing. they are similarly resentful. but when someone else tells me to do something I don’t want to do in the name of “morality. there is no objective difference between morality and moralism. overextending the principles of true morality.” he’s at it again. either by upholding false moral demands or. Likewise. some people’s values place greater demands on others.moralistic meddling. while moralizing is getting morality wrong. We must extend some of our distrust of moralism to morality. In other words. We must be a bit more detached 341 . what amounts to the same thing. while at the same time extending some of our natural affinity for morality to moralism. Naturally. and one might hope to separate the moral from the moralistic based on the extent to which different people’s values demand interference with other people’s lives and decisions. we must recognize that our own moral intuitions are merely reflections of our own values and be willing to compromise them when necessary. anarchists are the least moralistic of all. however. The solution to the tragedy of common sense morality lies in our recognizing that moralism and morality are the same thing seen from two different vantage points. and at the same time we must not dismiss other people’s values simply because they are at odds with our own. But by that measure. Without moral realism. trying to ram his morality down my throat. Being moral is getting morality correct. when conservatives encounter liberals who want take John Q. Tax-Payer’s hard-earned money and use it to fund social programs. just competing values. When I appeal to morality. Moral realists can maintain a distinction between morality and moralizing.

we have to solve the problem of getting people to see that there’s a problem. but they have no idea that common sense morality has anything to do with it. On the contrary. but the revisionist proposal is more than just a call for tolerance. however. Getting people to see. the tragedy of common sense morality is really two tragedies. and a bit more open-minded and welcoming when it comes to the values of others. Problem understood. the problem of getting people to see that moral realism has costs. the connection between the tempting behavior and the harm it causes is far less clear. are nothing new. In the case of moral realism. People know that the world is full of suffering and conflict. many will readily acknowledge the problem. Getting the general public to appreciate the problem and commit to its solution is another. Were it only that easy! Getting a handful of philosophers to appreciate the tragedy of common sense morality and phase out their realist tendencies is one thing. for example. We’ll adopt revisionism and enjoy the social benefits of thought and speech that reflect the nature of morality. that the herdspeople are raising too many cows on the pasture or that the river is dangerously polluted is relatively easy. Calls for tolerance. most people think that in treating the world’s social 342 . In fact. Before we can solve the main problem of getting people to curb their realism in order to avoid its costs. of course. In such cases. problem solved. It’s a program for sowing the seeds of tolerance by understanding and counteracting the psychological mechanisms and philosophical presuppositions that make tolerance difficult.and cynical when it comes to our own values. So that’s it. the hard part is working out a solution to which everyone can agree.

ills we need more good-old-fashioned. 343 . if there 47 A meme is. The revisionist meme doesn’t benefit its host directly. Government officials are willing to force people to pay attention to automotive safety tips because the benefits are relatively easy to demonstrate empirically. and they replicate or fail to replicate in virtue of their functional properties. What to do? Getting large numbers of people to put aside common sense isn’t impossible. contrary to common sense. is notoriously difficult. not less. if you will—and fighting against common sense. an idea. See Dawkins (1976) for the seminal discussion. from brain to brain. Memes spread by jumping from host to host. Unfortunately. and may not benefit its host at all. Why was this bit of anti-common sense able to gain such widespread acceptance? To put the question in Dawkinsian terms: What accounts for the success of the “turn into the skid” meme?47 It’s likely that its success has something to do with the fact that this meme directly benefits its “host. roughly. See Blackmore (1999) for a recent popular account. your untutored physical intuitions will tell you to turn out of the skid. A meme can be anything from a catchy tune or a joke to a design for an atomic bomb. As you skid down an icy road. but millions of informed drivers know that the best thing to do. may even harm its host. common sense morality. all the more so in the moral domain. is to turn into the skid. i. viewed as analogous to a gene. meta or otherwise. That common sense morality is a good thing is common sense—meta-common sense.” People are willing to pay attention to automotive safety tips because they stand to benefit greatly and directly from doing so. the revisionism meme and the “turn into the skid” meme are dissimilar in these regards.e.

Thus. But that’s just the home stretch. finding it convincing. to devote their time and energy to appreciating complicated 48 I have a distinct memory of my first encounter with John Mackie’s Book Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. “Inventing Right and Wrong. and forming an intention to further the revisionist cause. but thoroughly realist in my thinking. which there are not at this time. read the subheading. I didn’t read Mackie’s book until some years later when I began to have doubts about moral realism and found the standard non-cognitivist alternatives unsatisfying. The main title “Ethics” caught my eye. material that is likely to enrich one's current worldviews rather than change it. a lot more than most people get. Getting the revisionist meme would appear to involve something like reading this essay.aren’t enough copies of the revisionist meme in circulation. and may require a relatively rare sort of curiosity. when it comes to philosophical reading. spreading the revisionist meme appears to require getting people. I picked it up. Moreover. Having the motivation. I was making one of my regular visits to the small shelf devoted to used philosophy books in the basement of the Harvard Book Store. and ability to read and appreciate long philosophical essays tends to require a lot of education. people are drawn to material with which they expect to agree.48 especially when it comes to moral values. Another important difference between these two memes is that the revisionist meme is relatively expensive to acquire. patience. interested in ethics. 344 . many of whom lack the requisite education. I was a sophomore philosophy major.” and promptly returned it to the shelf.

This does not sound promising. saying to people. and then find. but you really should read it anyway because your reading it will make it easier for people to get along with you!” Needless to say. There are. sometimes. People everywhere like the values they’ve got just fine—it’s other people’s values that are the problem—and they’re not going to do a lick of extra work to revise their moral outlooks.50 Rather. reading this won’t make you happier or richer or better looking. they seek out factual knowledge for other reasons. the “hard sell” and the “soft sell.49 As noted above (Section 5.philosophical/scientific ideas that are not going to benefit them and that fly in the face of common sense values. this strategy is not likely to meet with much success.1. 49 What about philosophers? It seems to me that moral philosophers are not so much interested in changing their moral intuitions as they are in organizing them and justifying them. people don’t seek out factual knowledge in hopes that that knowledge will change their values. 50 By “values” here I mean things people care about for their own sakes and not for instrumental reasons. two approaches to spreading revisionism.” What I described above is essentially the hard sell. that their new knowledge has somehow brought about a change in evaluative perspective. 345 .’ Of course. I think.4). “Here! Read this! It explains how there’s no fact of the matter about what’s right or wrong and how our brains trick us into thinking that there is and how we can make the world better by not using words like ‘right’ and ‘wrong. But all hope is not lost. because it’s useful or inherently interesting. but perhaps this is not always the case.

including the incest taboo.2) is absolutely. 346 . some of them at least.51 Darwin’s theory of natural selection (1964) provides the over-arching framework. This is the soft sell. I’ve come to the following conclusion: The most important thing we can do to further the revisionist cause is to further the advancement of the science of human nature. and it’s not hard to see how someone who did so could emerge with doubts about her old values. “Here. from love to violence to morality. The topics are inherently interesting. The fields of cognitive neuroscience and behavioral genetics are uncovering the biological mechanisms that make us who we are. Cognitive psychology continues to 51 Summary follows Pinker (2002). positively wrong. It offers biologically based explanations of many behavioral phenomena. Pushing revisionist ideas directly is unlikely to meet with much success. But suppose instead you say.Consider someone who has the common sense intuition that the incestuous relationship between Mark and Julie (See Section 3. and the arguments are compelling once you get into them.” This is a good way to convince someone not to read your book. It’s not hard to see how a common sense moralist with a bit of curiosity about human nature would pick up a book on evolutionary psychology. You might find this book on evolutionary psychology interesting. It offers biologically based explanations of many important aspects of the human experience.” Now you’ve got a chance. And this science is booming. In light of this. When you’re done reading it you may not be so sure that all incest is wrong. Suppose you say to her. “Here! Read this book on evolutionary psychology.

The better an idea is. but they are. 347 . favoring one over the other depending on the context. as there are many. Much silliness and nastiness has been spoken and justified in the name of science and. although at this time. These days. In large part due to its historical abuse. Emerging from this global enterprise are countless hypotheses concerning every aspect of human experience. The scientific worldview is not new. by extension.” It is no doubt misleading to speak of the scientific worldview. Their opposition remains fierce.further our understanding of the human mind as an information processor. more similar than dissimilar. and sociology offer a broader perspective. its worldview. particularly the religious right. These disciplines are becoming increasingly interdependent. religion appears to hold sway. the socalled “scientific worldview. Religion has a variety of commitments that continue to be undermined by science. but. anthropology. and speaking on its behalf smacks of naïveté in many intellectual circles. I think. The public at large remains relatively neutral between these clashing worldviews. the more tempting its abuse. at least in the United States. the scientific worldview has received much resistance from the left. and for good reason. from the depths of disease to the heights of religious experience. this enterprise has spawned a worldview. But the left is slowly coming around. but with each passing decade it is broadened and refined. but that is to be expected. the strongest opposition is from the right. Economics. more than that. both directly in the case of factual commitments and indirectly in the case of evaluative ones. forming a unified science of human nature that is as powerful as it is profound (Wilson. 1998).

Singer (2000) and Joyce (2001). people who embrace the scientific worldview and.52 are revisionists waiting to happen. Moral intuitions that seem like perceptions of an external moral reality can no longer be understood as such. revisionism is a natural position to adopt. The evolutionarily minded don’t know what to think about “morality” because they’ve yet to distinguish explicitly between the scientifically implausible morality1 and the ever-so-important morality2.e. but evolution is not central to their thinking. people for whom evolution provides the framework for their understanding of human nature. the result of an inadequacy in our ordinary moral concepts. See. evolutionary thinkers are still humans with human values. In contrast. and their ranks are growing. Thinkers for whom evolution looms large have. i. which is reflected in ordinary moral language. in my opinion. more specifically. The meta-ethical unease experienced by evolutionary thinkers is. moral1 skeptics. Their understanding of the bio-cultural bases for moral thought and behavior makes them partial moral skeptics. Hence. for example. they are not complete moral skeptics because they are not moral2 skeptics. There are. been a bit uneasy when it comes to normative ethics. 52 In my experience.People who reject the scientific worldview are highly unlikely to embrace revisionism. They still care about the well-being of others and take our efforts to make the world a better place seriously. I think. 348 . As soon as one realizes that morality1 and morality2 are separable and that the latter does not depend on the former. however. some exceptions. most contemporary ethicists working in the Anglo-American philosophical tradition accept the theory of evolution. But at the same time.

and the social intuitionist account of moral development explains why moral disagreement is so frustrating and recalcitrant. 5. At the same time. an understanding of moral intuition and the rejection of moral realism make deontological line-drawing seem artificial and make consequentialism more appealing by default. revisionism is a natural fit for those who have appreciated what science has to say about the nature of morality.The evolutionary perspective makes one curious about and receptive to information concerning moral psychology. Further reflection on the nature of moral psychology and its likely effects in our present context suggest that moral1 language and thought are not only unnecessary but counterproductive. The suggestion that utilitarian concerns are recognized as legitimate across moral divides and that therefore utilitarianism is a shareable moral framework furthers its appeal. The projectivist account of realist psychology and phenomenology helps clear away lingering realist doubts. The key to moral progress most likely lies in the advancement of the science of human nature. and thus getting rid of them starts to seem like an appealing idea. the 349 . and as a result one need not fight too hard to promote revisionism directly. All told.5 Saving the World What are the biggest problems we humans face? The list of overlapping topics looks something like this: the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Perhaps a single coalition will take over the world by force and from its position of unprecedented power impose upon humanity some much-needed discipline. of course. “What can I do? They leave me no choice. is that everyone has a different conception of what is right. if not directly caused by. and malnutrition. The problem. the problem of transcending common sense morality. More likely. terrorism. for the most part. When different people’s respective visions for the future fail to dovetail. Since World War I. and were the world to be united by force the cure would probably be as bad as the disease. What these problems have in common is that they are preventable by. and the problem that is the subject of this essay. human choice. Once again. yet to be made. This is unlikely to happen. Why? Is it just selfishness? Do people simply not care? That may be the case for some. globally minded people have dreamed of a political solution to the world’s most pressing problems in the form of a world government.” The looming problems named above are all variations on Hardin’s tragedy of the commons. the nations of the world will have to choose to surrender their powers voluntarily. Solving these problems requires compromise.destruction of the environment. hunger. And that means that the favored political solution to our global woes is ultimately a moral solution. overpopulation. one 350 . ethnopolitical conflict. of what is required of themselves and of others. commons problems have two kinds of solutions: political and moral. well-meaning people throw up their hands and say. infectious disease. is the mother of all commons problems. but these compromises have. but I’m convinced that most people and most leaders care about the future of the world and believe they are doing what is right.

Could that happen? Not as long as the people of the world lack a common framework for resolving differences across ideological divides. one wise.” “freedom. constitute an axis of evil. They are as much a part of us as anything. But if we are to live together in the world we have created for ourselves. It is no more. taking them to be messengers of moral truth. We must understand where our intuitions come from and why they vary so widely. we are saddled with a Stone Age moral psychology that is appropriate to life in small. and their terrorist allies. We need a common currency for moral exchange. “States like these. once upon a time. this was a useful way to think. I conclude with the words of two leaders. though it remains natural as ever. But we will never have such a system so long as people hold fast to their moral intuitions.”53 —George W. We love our respective moral senses. one otherwise. Once again. Bush 53 From the State of the Union Address. so unlike the one in which our ancestors evolved.” and “justice” are not enough because these words mean different things to different people. Our minds trick us into thinking that we are absolutely right and that they are absolutely wrong because. 2002. a mutually agreeable system that can resolve moral questions rather than begging them. High minded words such as “rights.that must be enacted voluntarily. homogeneous communities in which all members share roughly the same moral outlook. 351 . we must know when to trust our moral senses and when to ignore them.

But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.“If only it were so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”54 —Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 54 From The Gulag Archipelago (1974). and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. 352 .

Jeremy (1982). Haldane. D. H. Dept. A. “Impairment of social and moral behavior related to early damage in human prefrontal cortex. D. Irwin. Ayer. and K. Damasio. R. eds. Nicomachean Ethics.Bibliography Anderson. Axelrod. “Realism.” Ecological Psychology. “Modern Moral Philosophy. Sydney University. T. 1-29. New York: Oxford University Press. 1032-7. eds. M. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co.) Berry. (Originally published. E. Armstrong. D. Blackburn. and C. An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. 273-283. (1993b). New York: Oxford University Press. “Structure. and Logic. R. G. Motion. (1984). 2 (11).. J. Wright. London. R. New York: Oxford University Press. New York: Dover. S. 5. Reality. and Projection. J. A. 353 .” Journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy. Damasio. Essays in Quasi-Realism. Language. S. Quasi or Queasy?” in J. Blair. trans.” unpublished manuscript. Tranel. “A Cognitive Developmental Approach to Morality: Investigating the Psychopath. Baron. 1-19. Truth. New York: Oxford University Press. New York: Oxford University Press. (1993a). The Meme Machine. Anscombe. Blackburn. S. Spreading the Word. (1995). Hart. 33 (124). (1998). Blackmore. Bentham. 1789. L. and A. and Preschoolers’ Perception of Social Causality.. Springer. R. New York: Methuen. (1984). (1993). Representation.” Cognition. (1999). 57. A. of Philosophy.” Nature Neuroscience. (1952). Blackburn. (1999). Aristotle (1985). W. J. S. Burns and H. (1958). J. “Truths and Truthmakers.. H. New York: Basic Books. Judgment Misguided. M. (1998). S. The Evolution of Cooperation. S. Bechara.

Chalmers. D. Number Sense: How the Brain Creates Mathematics. (1994). (1996). A. (1995). The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory. (1991). Csibra. A. (1999). Brockbank. Sayre-McCord.” in G.. Biro.. “Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness. R. (1979). R.Blair. New York: Oxford University Press. Clark. J. R. Cohen. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. New York: Oxford University Press. (2000). The Expanded Quotable Einstein. 76 (4). “Goal Attribution Without Agency Cues: The Perception of ‘Pure Reason’ in Infancy.” Australasian Journal of Philosophy. Calaprice. and the Human Brain. Burgess. “The Psychopathic Individual: A Lack of Responsiveness to Distress Cues?” Psychophysiology. R. Reason. (1998). R. J. 2 (3). ed. Descartes’ Error: Emotion.” Behavioral Brain Research. Damasio. Oxford: Clarendon Press. “Error Theories and Values. New York: Harcourt Brace.. 83-94. (1998). 34. The Big Lebowski. Washington. D. Coen. A. Dehaene. pp. 1995. R. The Feeling of What Happens.C. G. (1999).: United States Institute of Peace.” Cognition. A. “How to Be a Moral Realist. Negotiating Across Cultures: Communication Obstacles in International Diplomacy. L. Boyd. O. 72. 354 . (1979). P. and M. A Theory of the Good and the Right. “Against Ethics. E. (1990). Tranel. Gergely.” Journal of Consciousness Studies. Coen. 237-267.. New York: Grosset/Putnam. 41. and M. 200-219 Chalmers. “Individuals with Sociopathic Behavior Caused by Frontal Damage Fail to Respond Autonomically to Social Stimuli. S. A. Jones. D. Damasio. of Philosophy. Damasio. 534-552.” unpublished manuscript. ed. S. and J. and H. B. Burgess. Damasio. (1988). Smith (1997). (1997). 192-198. Brandt. Koos. Essays on Moral Realism. Dept. J. Princeton: Princeton University Press. G. Princeton University. D. London: Faber and Faber. F.

MA: Harvard University Press. “Two Notions of Necessity. Foot. (1996). “Recantation 1994. E. Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life.. Darwin.” Trends In Cognitive Sciences. Basic Negotiating Strategy: International Conflict for Beginners. New York: Harper & Row. “The Functional Neuroanatomy of Emotion and Affective Style. Meta-Ethics. M. R. Dawkins. Beyond Machiavelli: Tools for Coping with Conflict. Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among the Apes. R. C. “Toward a Fin de Siecle Ethics: Some Trends. (1994). Structures of Social Life. S. Fisher. ed. P. de Waal. Los Angeles. and W. Yale University Press. 71. P. Dennett. Imitating. Fishkin. Aldershot: Dartmouth. 1859. New Haven. R. (1980). F. Foot.Darwall. “Morality as a System of Hypothetical Imperatives. (Originally published. The Selfish Gene. and L. (1991).” Philosophical Studies. On the Origin of Species. and P. Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals. J. S. J. Cambridge. (1976).. MA: Harvard University Press. 38. 137-40.” Nature 415. (1994). (1999).) Davidson R. 101. 1-30. Fehr.” in Michael Smith. and S. 3 (1). de Waal. Railton (1992). Gachter (2002). Fisher.” Philosophical Review. and Participating. 355 . A. Beyond Subjective Morality: Ethical Reasoning and Political Philosophy. Cambridge. Fiske. New York: Oxford University Press. Davies. D.” Philosophical Review. MA: Harvard University Press. “Altruistic Punishment in Humans. C. F. (1972). (1982). “Learning Culture the Way Informants Do: Observing. (1995). New York: Free Press. (1984). 305-316. 115-89. New York: Simon and Schuster. Gibbard.” University of California. A. A. London: Allen Lane. 11-21. Fiske. (1964). (1971). P. Cambridge. Humberstone. Irwin (1999).

Wise Choices. (2000). Gazzaniga. 814-834. (1997). unpublished manuscript. 31. Greene J. Published in shortened form as Haidt (2001). G. Cambridge. J. B.Frankfurt. “Moral Dumbfounding: When Intuition Finds no Reason. E. of Psychology. J. Baron (2001). Cincinnati. and J.” Presentation at the Society for Philosophy and Psychology Annual Meeting. Haidt.” Journal of Behavioral Decision Making. Haidt. Dept. (1985). and J. R. New York: Polygram. Goodin.. MA: Harvard University Press. Biro (1995).” Cognition. L. Utilitarianism as a Public Philosophy. Gibbard. D. 293 (5537).” Journal of Philosophy. E. Bjorklund. Hersh.” Journal of Applied Social Psychology. Greene. S. of Psychology. 449-465. T.” unpublished manuscript. J. H. Murphy (2000). 56. Darley. (1965). and T. R. 191-221. P. OH.. (2001). (1994). J. (2001). The Social Brain. Dept. R.” Psychological Review. 74.. “Assertion. (2001). Beyond Morality. 14 (3). 2105-8. 68. Cohen (2001). and M. When We Were Kings. “Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person. Geach. (1971). 23. Garner. New York: Cambridge University Press. New York: Basic Books. University of Virginia. G. 5-20. “The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail: A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral Judgment. G. “Intuitions About Declining Marginal Utility. E. (1963). University of Virginia. (1990). Nystrom. “Taking the Intentional Stance at Twelve Months of Age. 121-3. Greene. 356 . M. Haidt. Gast L. Gettier. 165-193.. “Sexual Morality: The Cultures and Reasons of Liberals and Conservatives. M. 108 (4). Csibra. J. Haidt. L. D. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. and S. “A Psychological Perspective on Nozick’s Experience Machine and Parfit’s Repugnant Conclusion.” Philosophical Review. F. Sommerville. J. “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?” Analysis. “An fMRI Investigation of Emotional Engagement in Moral Judgment” Science. A. Nadasdy. D. Z. Apt Feelings. (1995). Gergely. Hackford. and S. J. 243-55.

Selby-Bigge and P.. and point. “A Phenomenal Analysis of Social Perception. Children and Emotion. D. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. P. Heider. (1982). 1981. G. Hashimoto. (1966). (Originally published. 1739) Hume. Utilitarianism and Beyond.” American Journal of Psychology. (1987). M. New York: Oxford University Press. IL: Open Court. 2. An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. (1984). J. C. (1977). “Psychopathy and Autonomic Conditioning.” Journal of Child Development. F. (1968). New York: Oxford University Press. A. R. L. New York: Cambridge University Press. “Trouble on Moral Twin Earth: Moral Queerness Revived. Australian National University. Sen. Moral Thinking: Its levels. Williams. D. L. and M.. Harsanyi. method. 16. A Treatise of Human Nature.” Science.” Preprint Series in Environmental Philosophy.” Journal of Abnormal Psychology. R. Quinn (1971). Nidditch. Hausfater. and M. Simmel (1944). 92 (2). D. Harman. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. 3-26. C. (1989). H. “An Experimental Study of Apparent Behavior. 221-260. New York: Oxford University Press. L.Hardin. Hardin. T. Timmons (1992). G. J. Infanticide: Comparative and Evolutionary Perspectives. 57. R. I. “The Moral Society: Its Structure and Effects. 162. H. New York: Aldine. The Language of Morals. Hare. Hare. J. Hrdy. (1952). La Salle. Hinckfuss. And B. Co. B. “Morality and the Theory of Rational Behaviour. G.. “The Tragedy of the Commons. 77 (3). Moral Relativism and Moral Objectivity. (1960).” in A. The Nature of Morality. Hume. M. Thomson (1996). Harman. 243-249. 223-35. Horgan. Hare. (1978). (Originally published. Department of Philosophy. Cambridge: Blackwell. eds. and M. Oxford: Clarendon. eds. G. 1777) 357 . 1243-1248. and J. (1981). Harris. eds. (1988). and S.” Synthese. Color for Philosophers: Unweaving the Rainbow.

35-54. Nelson. with “On a Supposed Right to Live Because of Philanthropic Concerns. 64 (2). 27. C. vol. 83. Jackson. Deanna (1991).. The Skills of Argument. Kant.. (1994).” Proceeding of the Aristotelian Society. W. S. Psychological. G. R. Kennan. Kripke.. (1974). Kuhn. Ellington. Jackson. MA: Harvard University Press. 113-37. Supp. Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. R. Korsgaard. and H. Oxford: Clarendon Press. A. S. New York: Cambridge University Press. 207. M. R. (1985). 3rd ed. The Sources of Normativity. (1989). San Francisco: Harper & Row. and R. “Stage and Sequence: The Cognitive-Developmental Approach to Socialization. trans. (2001). (1969). B. P. Kunst-Wilson. 85-115. Cambridge.” in C. Hillsdale. F. “Defining the Autonomy of Ethics.” J.” Science. “Morality and Foreign Policy. From Metaphysics to Ethics. “Synaptogenesis. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co. ed. 88-96. (1982). The Psychology of Moral Development : the Nature and Validity of Moral Stages. Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language: An Elementary Exposition. (1984). NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.” Theoria. New York: Cambridge University Press. 557-558. Handbook of Socialization Theory and Research. “Affective Discrimination of Stimuli that Cannot Be Recognized.” Foreign Affairs. 32. D. and Social Risk Factors. Kohlberg. A. “Dispositional Theories of Value. Chicago: Rand McNally. I (1993). ed. F.Huttenlocher. W.” in Goslin. Kohlberg. L. Johnston. F. The Minnesota Symposia on Child Development.” Philosophical Review. L. Threats to Optimal Development: Integrating Biological. (1998).. Joyce. 205218. Kanger. “Rights and Parliamentarianism.. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 63. and Neural Plasticity in Human Cerebral Cortex. Synapse Elimination. The Myth of Morality. (1996). Kanger (1966).. Zajonc (1980). 358 .

G. McNaughton. G. 113-37. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Lieberman. Lakoff. D. (2000). (1983). New York: Blackwell. Cambridge. Supp. ed. (Originally published. Utilitarianism. K. ed. Maddock.” in T. Llinas. 12. 493-509. (1981).” Philosophical Review. R. Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press. Honderich.” Psychological Bulletin. (1970).” Journal of Comparative Psychology. and M. 310-6. (1985). 67. Lewis. Moral Vision: An Introduction to Ethics. Lewis. Johnson (1999). “Reasoning in Humans: II. (1999). 1861. MA: MIT Press. After Virtue. New York: Penguin. S. vol. The Solution of a Problem and Its Appearance in Consciousness. K. J. MacIntyre. (1998). (1977).” Proceeding of the Aristotelian Society. “Dispositional Theories of Value.” Trends in Neuroscience.’ ‘Ought. (1981). 109-137. (1996). J. 427-46. J. M. 79. Mill. J.. McDowell. Morality and Objectivity. D.Kurtzman.’ and the Autonomy of Ethics. 122-130. 22 (7).) 359 . (1970). New York: Oxford University Press. I of the Vortex. “Intuition: A Social Cognitive Neuroscience Approach. Philosophy in the Flesh. R. “The Retrosplenial Cortex and Emotion: New Insights from Functional Neuroimaging of the Human Brain. Lakoff. (2001). D. Calcutta: Punthi Pustak. A. F. Mackie. “Values and Secondary Properties. Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong.” Journal of Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Crisp. D.” Scientific American 248.. N. “Intuitive Physics. 63. Mahapatra. (1989). (1931). R. “‘Is. McCloskey. 126. New York: Basic Books. (1988). Maier. R. M. 181194. “How to Define Theoretical Terms. L. M. Moral Politics: What Conservatives Know that Liberals Don’t. D. R. Traditional Structure and Change in an Orissan Temple.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. S. Morrow and Co. Colletti (2000). M. The Blank Slate. Sandole and H. and P. J. of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. R. 20. D. “The Autonomy of Ethics. “A Sensitive Period for the Incorporation of Cultural Meaning System: A Study of Japanese Children Growing Up in the United Sates. (1959). (1994).. R. and K. “Telling More than We Know: Verbal Reports on Mental Processes.Minsky. C. Manchester: Kelman Publication. 360 . “Culture and Cause: American and Chinese Attributions for Social and Physical Events. LaCasse. 304-339. (1974). Parfit. E. Lencz. The Nature of Rationality. (1992). Nisbett. 1903.” in A. “Reduced Prefrontal Gray Matter Volume and Reduced Autonomic Activity in Antisocial Personality Disorder. and T. J. G. Wilson (1977). Montville. MA: Beacon Press. M. W. (1993). “The Healing Function in Political Conflict. D. S. 119-27. 199-206. Minoura. O. Anarchy. M.. Pinker. Unpublished manuscript.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 949-971. Principia Ethica. (2002).I. Nozick. Moore. Dept. Poetic Justice: The Literary Imagination and Public Life. van der Merwe. New York: Simon and Schuster. T. The Society of Mind. 57. “Protocol Sentences. Pinker. Y. Nussbaum. (1959).” Psychological Review. New York: Basic Books. (1984). The Language Instinct. M. (1960). and Utopia. State. A. NJ: Princeton University Press.T. 38. Prior. (1995). Nozick.. Conflict Resolution Theory and Practice: Integration and Application. R. (Originally published. D.” in D. L.” Australasian Journal of Philosophy. (1993). Raine. J. Boston. Ayer. 67. 231-259. Reasons and Persons. Peng (1994). E. Princeton.” Archives of General Psychiatry. N. 84. Neurath. eds. Bihrle. ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press. R.” Ethos. B. Logical Positivism.) Morris. (1985). New York: Free Press. New York: W..

ed. 4-12. Rawls. 29 (12). J. “Actual Versus Assumed Differences in Construal: “Naïve Realism” in Intergroup Perception and Conflict.” Round Table. 76 (4). A Theory of Justice. Thought and Language. Keltner. Rawls. 21.. “The Child’s Conception of Food: The Development of Contamination Sensitivity to “Disgusting” Substances.” Biological Psychiatry. P.Raine. J. Cambridge. Damasio. Lottenberg. M.. Anger. V.” Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.. 58 (supp.” Motivation and Emotion. R. and M. A. J. Lowery. 8 (12). 404-417. Inc. M. B. (1971). (1946).. 16). Evanston: Library of Living Philosophers. 36. “Selective Reduction in Prefrontal Glucose Metabolism in Murderers. (1991).. Sayre-McCord. “Construction and Objectivity. Rao. Ward. Buchsbaum. (1988). and Divinity). 55472. “The Application of Positron Emission Tomography to the Study of Normal and Pathological Emotions. “The Many Moral Realisms” in G. 1075-1079. “The CAD Triad Hypothesis: A Mapping Between Three Moral Emotions (Contempt. R. 574-586.” in P. L. 1241-1249. 361 . (1997). Sayre-McCord. Rozin. B. A. ed. MA: Harvard University Press. E. 241-260. 68. “Reply to Criticisms. M. J. Reiman. Fallon. Schilpp.” Journal of Consciousness Studies. Abel. and E. Rozin. “Synaesthesia — A Window Into Perception. et al. Saver. “Preserved Access and Processing of Social Knowledge in a Patient with Acquired Sociopathy Due to Ventromedial Frontal Damage. L. 365-373. (1985). Stoddard (1994). 9. Disgust) and Three Moral Codes (Community.” Developmental Psychology. Ross (1995). and J. A. V. P. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. L. (1976). Imada (1999). S. S. R. J. (1980). 263. Russell. D. The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. G. “The Perception of Interpersonal Emotions Originated by Patterns of Movement. S.” Neuropsychologia. A. Essays on Moral Realism. L. Autonomy. E. R. Robinson. and S. Rime. C. and A. J. Hubbard (2001). Ramachandran. Haidt.” Journal of Philosophy. “Searching for a Mature Relationship. Stanley. 249-60. Augustoni-Ziskind (1985).” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 77.

New York: New York Review (Distributed by Random House). Williams. P. M. The Strategy of Conflict. New York: Oxford University Press. Rozin. New York: Wiley.. “Contractualism and Utilitarianism. Vol. R.” Philosophy and Public Affairs. 362 . (1979). MA: Harvard University Press. Miller (1987). MA: Harvard University Press. P. R. M. A. Singer. (1998). Goodnow. Martin’s Press. Mahapatra.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences. Brandt and P.” in J. Morality and Health. Kagan and S. Community. M. eds. eds. Mahapatra and J. “Perceptual Causality and Animacy.Scanlon. 1. (1996). (1960). B. Hatano. eds..” in W. Scanlon. J. (1890). M. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. C. (1982).” in A. The Emergence of Morality in Young Children. and L. (2000). Handbook of Child Psychology. Scholl. Schelling.. Sen and B.. New York: St. 4 (8). “The Necessity of Amorality in Foreign Affairs. ed. H. and P. What We Owe to Each Other. T. H. A. August. P. Rethinking Life and Death: The Collapse of Traditional Ethics. T. Culture in Mind: Cognition. B.. Miller (1998). and P. and the Problem of Meaning. Sidgwick. New York: Cambridge University Press. and Divinity) and the ‘Big Three’ Explanations of Human Suffering. “Culture and Moral Development. Many Mentalities. Shweder. Shore.. J. Much. Markus. 4th ed. D. G. Animal Liberation : A New Ethics For Our Treatment of Animals. 5th Ed. Singer. A. 229-243.” Harper’s Magazine. Culture. 1971. (1975). Affluence. 299-309. New York: Cambridge University Press. Singer. “Famine. Singer. and Morality. New York: Routledge.” in A. Damon. Practical Ethics. R. London: Macmillan. “The Cultural Psychology of Development: One mind. P. LeVine. Theoretical Models of Human Development. Shweder. A.. Tremoulet.. N. M. A. 1. ed. Shweder. Lerner. (1995). “The ‘Big Three’ of Morality (Autonomy. R. Utilitarianism and Beyond. (1972). Cambridge. R. The Methods of Ethics. Cambridge. (1971). T. Lamb.. Schlesinger. Park (1997).

(1986). (1990). Stevenson. A. The Moral Problem. New York: Harper and Row. The Realm of Rights. New York: Simon and Schuster. Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior. J. Restitution. J. MA: Harvard University Press. and Cooperation. C. Rights. (1987). J. trans. 363 . and Risk. P. (1985). (1974). Thomson. M. Sober. L. Lanham: University Press of America. No Good. P. New York: Oxford University Press. Cambridge.Singer. Oxford: Blackwell. reissue edition. Cambridge. J. (1999). (1988). Very Bad Day. Stirner. Williams (1973). P. I. Smart. Whitney. Unger. (1944). an Experiment in Literary Investigation. E. New York: Oxford University Press. Smart. New York: Dover. Viorst. A Darwinian Left: Politics. J. Alexander and the Terrible. Evolution. J. (1961). Sayre-McCord. Sydney: New South Wales University Press. J. F. “Moral Explanations” in G. The Ego and His Own. ed. C. Dimensions of Moral Thought. MA: Harvard University Press. (1973). S. Morality Without Foundations: A Defense of Ethical Contextualism. Thompson. E. The Gulag Archipelago. T. Smith. M. Wilson (1998). 1918-1956. (1996). M. Essays on Moral Realism. Ethics and Language. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press. (2000). and D. Solzhenitsyn. New Haven: Yale University Press. J. C. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Horrible. Trainer. (1982). Moralism and Morality in Politics and Diplomacy. N. (1994). Thomson. Timmons. An Outline of a System of Utilitarian Ethics. Living High and Letting Die: Our Illusion of Innocence. Sturgeon. J... K. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. New Haven: Yale University Press. and B. Utilitarianism For and Against.

London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. “On the Primacy of Affect. MA: Harvard University Press. Wiskott. 117-123. Williams. Zimbardo. Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy. R.. G.” American Psychologist.. (1998).-M. 7.” Proceedings of the International Workshop on Automatic Face. P. Kruger. ed. (1985a). Fellous. B.” Infant Behavior and Development. 49-63. New York: Knopf. Butler (1993). J. B. “Face Recognition and Gender Determination.” Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Werker. The Object of Morality. Honderich. Williams. and L. New York: Pantheon. 39 (2). D. New York: Pantheon. R. N. R. Consilience. Wright.” in T. and R. Cambridge. “Ethics and the Fabric of the World. G. Zajonc. LaBerge. Tees (1984). J. O. L. (1994). “Psychological Consequences of Unexplained Arousal: A Posthypnotic Suggestion Paradigm. (1985b). Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny. (1984). Wilson. J. Morality and Objectivity. (1971). von der Marlsburg (1995). 364 .Warnock. Wright. 466-473. Zurich. “Cross-language Speech Perception: Evidence for Perceptual Reorganization During the First Year of Life. S. and C. The Moral Animal: Evolutionary Psychology and Everyday Life. E.and Gesture recognition. B. London: Methuen. 102. (2000).

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful

Master Your Semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Special offer for students: Only $4.99/month.

Master Your Semester with a Special Offer from Scribd & The New York Times

Cancel anytime.